My Fair Lady, Court Theatre, at Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. Over the decades since its 1956 premiere, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's musical version of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion has come to epitomize the opulent, even bloated museum pieces of an earlier Broadway era. But Court Theatre's brilliant, stripped-down reinterpretation gives the material new life, dispensing with large chorus numbers and lavish design to focus on the show's Shavian soul--the test of wills between phonetics teacher Henry Higgins and cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle, who blossoms into a refined, well-spoken, thoroughly independent woman under his tutelage. Thanks to director Gary Griffin's superb cast and ingenious interpretive choices, the Shaw-Lerner script was never funnier, smarter, or more touching, and the Lerner-Loewe score (rearranged for two pianos by music director Tom Murray) reveals emotional depths ignored in more traditional productions.
As Higgins, Kevin Gudahl (looking like a butch Leslie Howard) is vigorous yet vulnerable, insufferable yet ingratiating--clearly in love with Kate Fry's shrewd, earthy Eliza but far too proud to admit it. (Eliminating any ambiguity about the temperamental twosome's intellectual and emotional passion for each other, Griffin leaves open the question of whether they do, can, or should stay together.) Fine support comes from John Reeger as Higgins's veddy English housemate Pickering, Bradley Mott as Eliza's rascally father, Marilynn Bogetich as Higgins's droll mum, and Ned Noyes, whose beautiful tenor and bucktoothed smile make him perfect as Liza's aristocratic suitor Freddy.