One thing can certainly be said of BYU’s “My Fair Lady”: At three hours and 15 minutes in length, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth. (By comparison, last year’s production at Hale Center Theater Orem was a full 45 minutes shorter.)
While length is not necessarily a problem, it is if it’s not justified. Most of “My Fair Lady’s” problems are unavoidable without doing some cutting, as Lerner and Loewe, though great songwriters, sometimes just didn’t know when to stop. No show needs a five-minute song-and-dance number to tell us that someone is getting married, especially if that someone is a minor character and his bride-to-be is not even in the play.
BYU’s faithful, traditional staging, directed by Marion J. Bentley, lies mostly dormant until snobbish Prof. Henry Higgins (Casey Griffiths) gets Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Mindy Smoot; double-cast with Korianne Johnson) to his home to teach her proper diction and grammar. When the servants, moving in amusing clockwork-style choreography, begin singing “Poor Professor Higgins” while Henry tries to tutor an exhausted Eliza, the show starts to wake up. With the next scene, in which Henry successfully passes off Eliza as an educated woman at the racetrack, the show comes marvelously to life.
In fact, the play is never more entertaining than in that scene. Mindy Smoot, already beautiful and possessed of a fine singing voice, does some great comedy here, using Cockney grammar and slang but speaking in a perfectly respectable accent. Her demeanor is that of a Stepford wife, all the life sucked out of her and replaced with false social class. It’s hysterical, and backed up well by the ensemble of stiff caricatures who make up the supporting cast.
Casey Griffiths plays the snipe-tongued Prof. Higgins for all he’s worth, earning laughs without clowning and generally handling the high-society dignity of the character very well, considering how young the actor is. Donald Allison as Henry’s friend Colonel Pickering is not a step behind him. Joshua Meyer gets only two real scenes as Freddy Eynsford Hill, but in them proves he has the best singing voice in the cast. Reyna Ricks is also notably strong as Henry’s no-nonsense mother.
The old-style American musical is not everyone’s cup of tea, but this incarnation of “My Fair Lady,” once it gets going, provides several hours’ worth of sentimental entertainment.
The funny thing is, I noted even during the much-shorter Hale Center Theater production that some songs dragged on too long -- and they had apparently cut 45 minutes of stuff out of it! You can imagine, then, what the BYU version was like: Certainly entertaining, but man, those songs go on for a while sometimes.