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A CurtainUp Review
My Fair Lady
David Lohrey
Good bye, Professor Higgins, I shan't be seeing you again.

Everybody thinks Broadway means New York. But now and for the next several weeks Broadway can be found at the Papermill Playhouse, for it is there where theatergoers can see an enchanting My Fair Lady as well produced, directed, and acted as anything now on view in Manhattan. This deceptively tame theatre situated in the charming town of Millburn, New Jersey has put on a first-class production .

Where to begin a description of this exquisitely produced classic of the American musical stage? The lights go down, and the curtain goes up on what must be the most magnificent sets this side of the Mississippi. Michael Anania has designed one picture-postcard after another of Edwardian England. The audience gasps rightly at their appearance.

We are at once outside Covent Garden, then in a Tottenham Court Road tenement, and finally at am embassy ball. Professor Higgins' study bears the burden of exposure, of course, as this is where most of the action takes place. It is an extraordinarily detailed recreation of a period study, with a grand staircase to the bedrooms upstairs. Wood-paneled, it assists enormously in communicating to innocent, and illiterate, Eliza what she is up against as she attempts to find a cultured voice. Later, as the transformed Eliza makes her way into Society, we are transported by Mr. Anania's sets to the Transylvanian Embassy ball, an exterior view of the Professor's mansion, and to various street scenes about London proper. The design team at the Papermill accomplishes what few theatres would dare attempt.

But of course the success of a musical rests not on the grandeur of the scenic design but on the music. My Fair Lady needs no words of recommendation here. Most theatergoers will be revisiting this classic, eager to hear their favorites again. But for those few who have never seen or heard this treasure, it is perhaps worth noting that the Papermill has done some cutting. Just why is anyone's guess, but we can assume time was on someone's mind. It is a long evening. Missing is that wonderful "A Hymn to Him", sung by Higgins, from which many will remember the opening "Why can't a woman be more like a man?"

The leads make the show. Glory Crampton, I hate to say it, is glorious as Eliza Doolittle. Totally convincing as the penniless flower girl, she takes the Higgins' household by storm, as she becomes the grandly accomplished lady with perfect diction. She sings beautifully, while maintaining her street smarts. Favorites of mine include "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" and "I Could Have Danced All Night ". but Ms Crampton brightens every scene, wearing Gregory A. Poplyk's costumes, including her flower girl rags, like a princess.

Giving an equally impressive performance is Paul Schoeffler as Professor Henry Higgins, the teacher who could learn a thing or two about love. He has a bold stage presence and sings his heart out. Playing opposite George S. Irving (a commanding Colonel Pickering), Schoeffler is suitably smug, an arrogant social snob who condescends to help the little people. Perhaps never completely persuasive as a lifelong bachelor (he's too handsome), Schoeffler nonetheless conveys the perfect balance between conceit and insecurity in his scenes with Ms Crampton.

The rest of the cast is also top-notch. Max Von Essen (Freddy) makes a heroic stand as Eliza's frustrated suitor. He has a great voice and gives Higgins a run for his money. Ed Dixon as Eliza's father is a dynamic player. Two high points in the evening are provided by Dixon and company in his rendition of "With a Little Bit of Luck" and the memorable "Get Me to the Church on Time", Dixon dances up a storm, aided by the zippy direction of Robert Johanson whose street scenes are made compelling by Michael Lichtefeld's inventive, spirited choreography. In fact, the entire show rests on the director's pacing, which is brisk and flawless. While one may miss what has been cut, one must applaud the way things keep flowing. Johanson and the Papermill know how to deliver the goods, and that's no mean accomplishment.

Adapted from a play by George Bernard Shaw.
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.
Music by Frederick Loewe.
Director: Robert Johanson.
Choreographer: Michael Lichtefeld.

Cast: Gloria Crampton, Brenda Cummings, Ed Dixon, George S. Irving, Paul Schoeffler, Phyllis Somervill, Max Von Essen and Company.
Scenic Design: Michael Anania.
Costume Design: Gregory A. Poplyk.
Lighting Design: F. Mitchell Dana.
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission
The Paper Mill Theater, Brookside Drive, Millburn, New Jersey, (973) 376-4343.
06/05/2002 - 07/21/2002, Wed - Sat at 8pm; Sun at 7:30pm; Thurs & Sun matinees at 2pm; Sat matinee at 2:30pm.
Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 6/07/02.

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