Annapolis Summer Garden's My Fair Lady is the best show seen in many a moon at the theater under the stars. Running through the season's close on Aug. 30, this production is extraordinarily well-staged and well-paced.
Most important -- Summer Garden's My Fair Lady is faithful to Lerner and Loewe's mission to preserve the wit of Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play on which the musical is based.
Committed to delivering a classic interpretation of this musical that debuted on Broadway in 1956, director Douglas Kotula has assembled a first-rate cast that shares his commitment. Kotula moves the blend of witty dialogue and sublime melodies forward, making quick use of cleverly designed three-sided sets that minimize dark time.
Barbara Markey's equally skilled musical direction does full justice to the incomparable score. Markey draws first-rate performances from one of the finest-sounding choruses ever to grace Summer Garden's outdoor stage and from the leading players.
Choreographer Lesley Rauch combines exuberance with period authenticity in dances that are surprisingly well-executed by this terrific chorus serving as Cockney hucksters, opera-goers and Ascot race patrons.
The score includes such timeless tunes as "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Show Me," "On the Street Where You Live," "Get Me to the Church on Time" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."
Songs such as "Why Can't the English?" and "Wouldn't it Be Loverly?" help tell the story of flower seller Eliza Doolittle, whose Cockney accent intrigues Professor Henry Higgins. He convinces Eliza that if she learns to speak proper English she will be able to get her own flower shop -- incentive enough for Eliza to begin her studies with the gruff grammarian.
Professor and student nearly drive each other to distraction before Eliza masters the art of proper speech. Eventually an eloquent and regal Eliza emerges to dazzle the local gentry at a ball, where she is mistaken for royalty. Interspersed throughout the production are humorous moments -- a major one in the "Ascot Gavotte" number with its blase crowd given added insouciance by the hilarious mugging of Joann Greenfield.
In her Summer Garden debut, Aimee Lambing instantly captivates the audience with her appealing Eliza. Lambing transforms herself smoothly from Cockney flower seller to fairest lady and does justice to most of the songs. Her light voice proves surprisingly strong in several finishes. Early in the show, Lambing's somewhat tentative "Wouldn't it be Loverly?" is bolstered by a fine-sounding harmonious Cockney chorus.
Baritone Jason Fulmer chooses to subdue his naturally powerful voice to convey a finely nuanced rendition of songs such as "I'm An Ordinary Man" and "Hymn to Him" that reveal all the subtlety and wit of Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics. Fulmer brings expert comic timing and an unsuspected depth to his Henry Higgins.
Terry Horsley is a deliciously roguish Alfred Doolittle, displaying great chemistry in his confrontational scene with Fulmer's Higgins and proving an adept song-and-dance man in "With a Little Bit of Luck," with spirited help from Jamie Hanna's Jamie and Benjamin Greenfield's Harry.
Mark Kidwell delivers an attractive and aristocratic Colonel Pickering, and Trent Goldsmith is suitably naive as Freddy Eynsford-Hill.
Judy Smith is excellent as Higgins' housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, and Ellen Flattery provides some sly humor as Higgins' mother.
Kudos go to Nikki Gerbasi for her great costumes, to David Duvall for the masterful set design and to stage manager Tony Anzalone for keeping everything moving smoothly.
It's hard to imagine more enjoyable company on a summer evening than Summer Garden's My Fair Lady. For tickets call the box office at 410-268-9212.