Sixty years after its sensational debut on Broadway, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” remains one of the most adored musicals in history. High Street Arts Center’s current production brings alive all of its beloved characters, led by misogynistic linguist Henry Higgins and his unwilling student, cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle.
Helmed by first-time director John Gaston, who also served as co-music director with Benjamin Glasner, the production is a rousing, ravishing triumph, with superb performances all around.
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” the musical had a notoriously contentious history due to bouts with temperamental actor Rex Harrison (the original and definitive Higgins).
The show’s title went through several iterations (notably “My Lady Liza” and “Fanfaroon”) before producer Herman Levin settled on “My Fair Lady.”
No contentiousness is evident in High Street’s production, which is perfectly cast.
R. Shane Bingham is an inspired choice to play Higgins. A versatile actor, Bingham had sung onstage only once before, as Corny Collins in Conejo Players’ production of “Hairspray.” But Gaston worked with Bingham, who has become an accurate and appealing vocalist, easily transitioning from the clipped speak-sing created for Harrison in Higgins’ egocentric rants (“I’m An Ordinary Man,” “A Hymn to Him”) to the wistful “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
Bingham, who is adept at playing British roles, also played TV journalist David Frost in “Frost/ Nixon” in 2015 and carries off the role of Higgins with equal esteem.
Becca Peyton is a perfectly “loverly” Eliza Doolittle, with a ravishing, full-bodied soprano that sweeps the skies with its sonorous tones. Her magnificent, exhilarating vocal on “I Could Have Danced All Night” received the most thunderous ovation of the opening night performance.
Peyton is also a skilled comedian, singing the tempestuous “Without You” and the angry fandango “Show Me” with fiery fits of pique.
Her first appearance in the ball gown is a stunning moment, not just for her beauty and poise but also for Higgins’ thunderstruck reaction upon seeing her. For the first time in the play, he is speechless, creating just the right amount of ambiguity Shaw intended, as the audience wonders throughout the play whether or not Higgins is really falling in love with her.
Ray Mastrovito provides essential comic relief as the distinguished but flustered Col. Pickering, Higgins’ fellow linguist, who shows Eliza the respect Higgins refuses to allot her.
Mastrovito worked with Bingham previously in “Frost/Nixon” and, as in that show, they have a fluid chemistry that makes their scenes move like a hot knife through butter. Mastrovito’s best moments come with his funny facial reactions, even including some Nixonian jowl-shaking when Higgins mistreats Eliza.
Veteran actor Rich Grosso marks a return to the boards after a 25-year hiatus with his portrayal of Eliza’s ne’er-do-well dustman father, Alfie Doolittle. Grosso is an impish delight in the Music Hall-inspired production numbers “With a Little Bit of Luck” and the spirited “Get Me to the Church on Time.”
Choreographer Miriam Durrie Kirsch made the inspiring choice of pairing the diminutive Grosso with statuesque ensemble dancer Reign Lewis in a funny pas de deux in the latter number.
Nora Kulkarni (Mrs. Pearce) and Linda Smith ( Higgins’ mother) are excellent in their respective roles, as is Cameron Liljekvist as Eliza’s love-struck suitor, Freddy, who delivers an outstanding rendition of the show’s signature ballad, “On the Street Where You Live.”
The show runs through Sept. 17 at 45 E. High St., Moorpark. For tickets, call (805) 529-8700 or visit www.highstreetarts.com.