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'Lady' only fair: Marriott production just doesn't dazzle
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Columnist

Heidi Kettenring and Kevin Gudahl star as Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins in Marriott Theatre's "My Fair Lady."


Marriott Theatre veteran Heidi Kettenring ("Hairspray," "Spelling Bee," "Little Women") stars as the Cockney flower girl turned ersatz aristocrat in the company's production of the Lerner and Loewe classic, "My Fair Lady."


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Published: 12/23/2009 9:39 PM

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It says something that some of the brightest, most engrossing scenes in Marriott Theatre's "My Fair Lady" are the debates on class and gender between Heidi Kettenring's Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl turned lady, and Kevin Gudahl's Henry Higgins, the tweedy phonetics professor who transforms her.

Those delightful moments - particularly the penultimate exchange between Eliza and Henry - are when the lush, literate musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe is at its most Shavian. They are also the moments when director Dominic Missimi's tepid production generates the most heat.

Unfortunately, they are too infrequent in this production, which somehow fails to dazzle. And it should, given Lerner's witty lyrics and book based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," Loewe's memorable songs and Marriott's skilled cast. Individual moments notwithstanding, the production as a whole never rises beyond competent. This despite a knowing, buoyant performance from the talented Kettenring - whose Eliza is, from the start, more savvy than her mentor realizes - and refined work by Gudahl as the dismissive, domineering Henry who comes to admire the former "draggle-tailed guttersnipe."

Kettenring and Gudahl clearly know their way around Shaw, as evidenced from Missimi's cleverly conceived final scene, a rapprochement between equals who seal their truce with the exchange of an apple. Missimi surrounds the accomplished duo with a top-notch cast that includes Ann Whitney, every inch the droll grande dame, who radiates a wry wisdom as Henry's mother.

Don Forston delivers a spirited performance as Eliza's father Alfred, one of the undeserving poor, whose distinctive moral vision changes his life as surely as Eliza's language and etiquette lessons and stylish new wardrobe changes hers. David Lively makes a disarming Colonel Pickering, a man who from the beginning sees past Eliza's bad accent and unkempt appearance to appreciate the value of the woman herself. Max Quinlan, whose voice soars on the glorious "On the Street Where You Live" is appropriately boyish as Eliza's hapless suitor Freddy.

Nancy Missimi's costumes are lovely, especially the women's black and white Ascot Racecourse finery with its jewel-tone accents. The singing lives up to Marriott's high standards and the production has its charms, notably Kettenring's splendid "I Could Have Danced All Night" and the jolly "With A Little Bit of Luck." And yet, the production feels flat. The satirical "Ascot Gavotte" comes across not as reserved, but lifeless and the "Embassy Waltz" which closes the first act simply peters out. It's an awkward, unclear conclusion that hardly befits Eliza's triumphant society debut. With only four females, the chorus feels undersized, much like Missimi's production itself, which doesn't shimmer as it should.

Certainly, it's competent, but when it comes to Marriott, we expect more.

"My Fair Lady"

Rating: ★★½

Info: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire (847) 634-0200 or

Showtimes: 1 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 4:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays through Feb 14

Running time: About two hours, 30 minutes with intermission

Tickets: $40-$55, dinners range from $32-$43 (dinner included with purchase of a $55 ticket on Wednesdays or Thursdays)

Parking: Free lot adjacent to theater, valet parking available

Rating: For most audiences