Geneva Anderson digs into art

Review: SF Playhouse’s small production of “My Fair Lady” feels like a GIANT success—I could have danced all night!—through September 29, 2012

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The SF Playhouse closes its 9th season with  My Fair Lady, like you never seen it before!  Artistic Director Bill English has taken this classic Broadway musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe based on Pygmalion and worked his magic once again—reinventing it as a sexy new production that feels perfect for SF Playhouse’s intimate stage.  By stripping the show to its core, and casting much younger actors as Higgins and Pickering, as well as a street tough Eliza, the power, brilliance and humor of Shaw’s original pour forth with palpable romantic heat.   Performed by an amazing cast of 11with two pianos, this small production, which opened Saturday, is a giant hit.  It’s wonderfully executed score of well-loved favorites— “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “Little Bit of Luck,” “The Rain in Spain,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”—will have you singing all the way home.

The talented Johnny Moreno, who resembles Robert Downey Jr., is most definitely not Rex Harrison—he’s young, sexy, passionate, and brings his own brand of complexity to phonetics specialist Henry Higgins.  From the very start, he’s a show–off.  He can’t wait to impress Colonel Pickering (Richard Frederick) with his keen ability to tell where people are from by the sound of their voice and he can mimic them admirably too.  When he says he can turn a flower girl into a duchess, we can’t help but be intrigued.  The palpable chemistry between Moreno and Monique Hafen (Eliza) adds sizzle to the production.  By the second act, Higgins has shown us a little too much of his control tactics, treating poor Eliza like his little minion and from there on, the bundle of contradictions that Moreno brings to the self absorbed Higgins are captivating and feel absolutely authentic.  He knows he’s a jerk but he’s sitting pretty in the power seat until he is thrown a kilter by the unexpected emotions Eliza’s stirred.

Catch the loverly Monique Hafen now—as Eliza Doolittle, she’s edgy, vulnerable, sensual and extraordinary as the feisty poor girl/street urchin with a heart of gold.  This role suits her to a T, and Bill English has made sure her marvelous voice and dancing ability are showcased cleverly.  By the time the final act rolls around, we’re solidly in Eliza’s camp.

The experience is enhanced by the intimacy of the playhouse itself— it seats 100 with a few beams here and there— and has a very small stage on which miraculous things almost always occur.  For My Fair Lady, pianists Greg Mason and David Dobrusky, not visible to the audience, sit at opposite ends of the theatre and sweep you away in lush melodic rhapsody.  On October 13, 2012, SF Playhouse will open its 10th season in a new larger theatre (225) seats at 225 Post Street.  I hope they can re-create the special magic of all the treasured productions they launched from this space.

Run time: Two hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion written in 1912 and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture Pygmalion from 1938. Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe.

Production Team:  Directed by Bill English. Set Design by Nina Ball. Musical Direction by Greg Mason. Choreography by Kimberly Richards. Pianists Greg Mason and David Dobrusky.

Cast: Monique Hafen (Eliza Doolittle), Johnny Moreno (Henry Higgins), Richard Frederick (Colonel Pickering), Charles Dean (Alfred P. Doolittle), Karen Hirst (Mrs. Higgins/Mrs. Pearce), Justin Gillman (Freddy Eynsford-Hill) and an ensemble of Luke Chapman, Mandy Khoshnevisan, Kenneth McPherson, Randy Nazarian, and Corinne Proctor.

ARThound likes what Bill English, SF Playhouse’s Artistic Director, has to say about George Bernard Shaw:  “Shaw, like (Henry) Higgins, was a revolutionary, determined to change the social inequities of his time.  When Pygmalion opened, it terrified the wealthy ruling class. The differences in speech were how they kept the poor in their place. The idea that changing the way someone pronounced the word ‘rain’ could alter their social station was subversive and revolutionary. As Higgins puts it, he was passionately determined to lessen the ‘gulf separating class from class, and soul from soul’ by changing the way people speak.” (quoted from the program)

Thirsty Thursdays: The SF Playhouse now offers exclusive events in conjunction with its shows. Thirsty Thursday is August 9, 2012.  Join young professionals and socialize pre-show

while enjoying $1 beer, soda and pizza, great music, and a specially-discounted ticket.

Details:  My Fair Lady runs through September 29, 2012.  Shows are Tues/Wed/Thurs. 7 p.m., Friday & Saturday 8 p.m., plus Saturdays 3 p.m. SF Playhouse is located at 533 Sutter Street (two blocks from Union Square, between Powell & Mason Streets) in San Francisco.  Tickets are $30 to $70.  For more information or to purchase tickets, go to or phone the box office at 415-677-9596.  Parking is $1/hour after 6 p.m. through the end of July at the Sutter/Stockton Garage, which is two blocks from the theatre.

July 20, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment