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>> A NIGHT OF MUSICAL ELEGANCE AT ARENA STAGE IN WASHINGTON

November 29, 2012 12:10 am

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Pitch perfect: Manna Nichols and Benedict Campbell star in 'My Fair Lady' as Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins.

By GAIL CHOOCHAN

By GAIL CHOOCHAN

"My Fair Lady" is one of those classic musicals that never get old. A sweet story about London flower girl who dreams of becoming a lady, it's a show filled with lifting tunes that sweep listeners off their feet.

There maybe nothing totally new to offer in this Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical, but Arena Stage's telling of this Pygmalion-inspired tale is simply sublime. You'll leave happy with "I Could Have Danced All Night" ringing in your ears for days to come.

Arena Stage's "My Fair Lady" is everything it should be. A sumptuous 2 hours of story and song from this delightful throwback.

The musical follows a Cockney flower girl transformed into a proper young lady by a fuddy-duddy professor. "My Fair Lady" not only tells the story between these two headstrong characters but also offers a lesson of the London's class structure, with colorful depictions of the poor-but-always-dancing folks and the upper crust.

As Eliza Doolittle, who yearns for love and respect, Manna Nichols is absolutely enchanting. A gifted singer and actress, she brings a freshness to this lovable character. Benedict Campbell offers a fine interpretation of Professor Higgins, and reminds one a little of a young Michael Caine (but not too young). Higgins is a man of good intentions, although sometimes you want to scream at his character's belittling treatment of Eliza.

And Nicholas Rodriguez as the lovestruck Freddy Eynsford-Hill is quite the charmer. Be prepared to swoon during his big solo number "On the Street Where You Live." Both Campbell and Rodriguez are reprising their roles from the 2011 Shaw Festival production.

Performed in the round, "My Fair Lady" allows the audience to experience the story from different angles. The ensemble numbers are effectively arranged in this space as they whirl about the stage, with props quickly coming in and out from all four entrances. You'll feel so close to all the fanfare, you're going to have to restrain yourself from jumping in. Take for example the crowd-pleasing "With a Little Bit of Luck," set in London's famous Covent Garden. It's impossible not to catch the widespread enthusiasm of this ensemble cast and Daniel Pelzig's energetic choreography.

Judith Bowden's steampunk-inspired looks for London's lower class are deliciously fun. The costume designer has creatively put together layers upon layers of mixed patterns, for a Victorian meets Alexander McQueen style. And the refined costumes of the derby-watching set with its whimsical hats are simply breathtaking, like the toppers on a fancy expensive cake. The hats alone deserve a standing ovation.

Perfect for the holiday season, the Molly Smith production delivers a generous serving of frothy entertainment. Catch this "Fair Lady" before it leaves the dance floor in January.




What: "My Fair Lady" When: Through Jan. 6, 2013 Where: Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SE, Washington, D.C. Tickets: $45 to $94 Info: 202/488-3300; arenastage.org




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