The Review: Broadway’s Carousel and the Lincoln Center Theater’s My Fair Lady.
It’s all about the girls. Oops, my apologies, I meant to say, young women that are headlining two musical revivals gracing Broadway this season. Both glorious, with one, Jessie Mueller, not surprisingly amazing, and Lauren Ambrose, throwing us all for a loop. We all knew Mueller is graced with extraordinary musical chops, wowing us most wonderfully in Beautiful and Waitress, but most of us were unaware of Ambrose, unsure and wondering what the fuss was all about. The powers that be have been trying to get her to headline a musical for a while, and I could never fully comprehend why. She was wonderful in the television show, “Six Feet Under“, that we can all agree, and I always thought her acting ability was her finest strength, as did many of my followers and friends, so I was shocked as many of us were, to find out that maybe, she is much more of a singer than any of us could ever imagine. I mean, I saw her in Central Park in The Public’s Romeo and Juliet, playing a wonderfully gentle and fierce Juliet (and if my memory serves me correctly, I believe the rain came down on this lovebird just as she was swallowing her potion, and for that one night, as it was announced over the P.A. system, the two lovers would live, as the performance was halted) and she was also just as magnificent in LCT’s Awake and Sing! and Broadway’s Exit the King, but her vocal performance at the Lincoln Center Theater left me slack-jawed.
That being said, most musicals center their story and our gaze on the loverly female lead, especially these two old school musicals; the 1956 My Fair Lady and the 1945 Carousel. And in that focus, both of these gorgeous classic musicals, along with the later play, Children of a Lesser God, which is currently getting a lopsided revival at Studio 54, enter the Broadway scene sharing some problematic gender imbalances, awkward power dynamics, and abuse issues to figure out. And with the current #MeToo climate hanging over their concerned heads, both of these musicals delicately and intelligently found their way through the controversy, but sadly, Children did not. Check out my review of that play by clicking on the title to find out exactly why I would say such a thing.
But in the land of classic Broadway musicals, the power dynamics and the ideas of control give pause to many when they think of a modern revival of My Fair Lady. The memorable musical is based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, an equally famous play that I have never had the opportunity to see, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. I recently watched two uniquely different short one-act operas presented by the NYC Opera based on the same Greek myth of Pygmalion (Donizetti’s Il Pigmalione/Rameau’s Pigmalion) that gave Shaw his inspiration in hopes to find the essence of the story, only to find that the concepts presented add a complicated layer that isn’t so soothing to our present mindset. In the myth (and within these two operas), a sculptor falls desperately in love with his perfectly created statue of a beautiful woman. The Gods, swayed by his adoration, bring the statue to life, and the love between them is powerful and unquestioned. The newly created flesh and blood woman, naturally, falls in love with her creator, and the sculptor just has to open his arms for her to fall into. Abstractly, this is what Shaw brought into his Eliza Doolittle, quite ingeniously, as did Lerner and Loewe (Camelot, Gigi). The statue became a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from the older and much wealthier professor Henry Higgins, a phoneticist, so that she may pass as a lady and he may win a bet. And they fall in love, or at least he thinks he does, but does she? That I must say is the question on everyone’s lips as the final scene approaches, but it is the romantic ideal that still prevails and how most want to see it end. (for the full review of Carousel and My Fair Lady, click here)