Friday, October 19, 2007

Pygamalion (The SOB Review)

Pygamalion (The SOB Review) - American Airlines Theatre, New York, NY

***1/2 (out of ****)

If you're looking for a class act on Broadway -- or five for that matter -- look no further than David Grindley's splendid five act revival of George Bernard Shaw's classic Pygmalion now gracing the stage of the American Airlines Theatre.

And while Jefferson Mays as Professor Henry Higgins is delivering yet another flawlessly superb performance, it's film actress Claire Danes who's a revelation in her Broadway debut. With amazing aplomb and grace, Danes portrays the gutter snipe named Eliza Doolittle, first devouring the common street girl's accent and then morphing into the classy dame who unwittingly helps Higgins win a bet.

At that moment when the indefatigably clueless and rude professor deigns to utter the line, "Silly people don't know their own silly business," to an equally compelling Boyd Gaines (as his fellow confirmed bachelor, the genteel Colonel Pickering) -- particularly as the former pats Eliza's head as if she were a pet -- Shaw neatly underscores his overarching point that class ain't all it's cracked up to be. It's also the type of delicious Edwardian irony that makes this play such a classic.

Through the boorish and overbearing Professor Higgins -- nicely counterbalanced by the earthy philosophy of Eliza's undeserving poor father Alfred (Jay O. Saunders in a humorous spot-on performance) -- Shaw not only demonstrates that human decency has little to do with class distinctions, but also that intellectualism and common sense don't necessarily go hand in hand.

And speaking of class, Helen Carey as Mrs. Higgins is the epitome of noblesse oblige, as she ponders early on what is to become of poor Eliza, long before the flower girl herself realizes that there's no turning back to the life she once had. She serves as a strong moral compass, trying to redirect her errant son.

I adore this show and its genuine blissful humanity that echoes in the music of its lyrical spoken word. Concerns among its characters over swear words like "devil," let alone "buggery," remain quaint chestnuts, reminding us how far we've come or gone.

Thanks to Grindley's sharp direction, accentuated quite literally by Majella Hurley's dialect coaching, this Pymalion moves swiftly with focus. Helping the five acts roll is the exquisite scenic design by Jonathan Fensom that magically transports us from a rainy evening at London's Covent Garden to the professor's study to Mrs. Higgins' parlor with the ease of his zigzagging sets (Fensom also does the honors with his costume designs).

Pygmalion is one period piece that seems timeless and well-worth revisiting. I strongly recommend this show.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Come What Mays, My Fair Danes Opens Tonight (October 18, 2007)
Pygmalion Revival: There Is Nothing Like A Danes? (July 10, 2007)

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