Long before “American Idol,” Eliza Doolittle might have been one of the first reality stars.
In George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” — and its musical adaptation, the magical “My Fair Lady,” now on stage at Westchester Broadway Theatre — Eliza signs up to better herself, knowing full well that it will end one day, for better or worse.
But she’s willing to take that shot and endure the ridicule and abuse of one judge (Henry Higgins) and the support of another (Col. Pickering).
By the time the transformation is complete, she has won the hearts of judges and audience.
The story is set to a lush score by Frederick Loewe, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Hummable songs include “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”, “The Rain in Spain” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
There is much to recommend this “My Fair Lady,” beginning with Eliza, played by the preternaturally talented Jennifer Babiak.
Seen as Emma in last season’s “Jekyll & Hyde” at WBT, Babiak puts her quadruple-threat ability to full use here, as the Cockney flowergirl transformed before our very eyes: She sings, dances, acts — and charms.
Eliza endures all sorts of barbarous insults at the hand of Professor Henry Higgins, played with aplomb by Tom Galantich, who calls her, by turns, “a squashed cabbage leaf,” “baggage,” “deliciously low,” “horribly dirty” and “a gutter snipe.”
Come to think of it, Higgins might just be a forebear to Simon Cowell.
Both Babiak and Galantich are in fine voice.
Her sweet soprano is clear and warm. He, rightly, chooses to sing more than did Rex Harrison, the original Higgins on stage and screen adaptations.
As Pickering, William McCauley is a fine mix of intellectual curiosity and common sense.
Michael Lichtefeld’s efficient, stylized choreography — in large numbers like “The Ascot Gavotte” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” — shows the fine ensemble in their best light. The “Gavotte,” in particular, was a favorite, all buttoned down and prim, a perfect foil for a Cockney fish entirely out of water.
Director Charles Repole leads with dispatch.
The numerous set changes are handled well, shifting from Covent Garden to Higgins’ home on Wimpole Street to Ascot and even Mrs. Higgins’ garden. Steven Loftus’ sets are minimal but effective.
Gail Baldoni’s costumes merit special mention, from the serving staff’s uniforms to Eliza’s finery to the top of Higgins’ tweed hat.
Also notable are actors in four supporting roles.
The nimble Bill Dietrich as Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, is the evening’s top-notch comic relief.
Kathleen Huber gives Mrs. Higgins, the professor’s mother, a sort of weary wisdom that is winning.
Joe Chisholm does fine as Freddy, singing “On the Street Where You Live.”
And Karen Murphy gives the housekeeper Mrs. Pearce a heart.
“My Fair Lady” is a Golden Age charmer, a musical that entertains while dealing with larger issues about teachers and students, men and women, and how we treat each other.
In the end, Eliza learns that the difference between a flower girl and a lady is how she is treated. Get to Westchester Broadway Theatre and you’ll be treated to a lovingly revived classic.
Photo by John Vecchiolla: The cast of “My Fair Lady” at Westchester Broadway Theatre, includes, from left: Karen Murphy (Mrs. Pearce), Tom Galantich (Henry Higgins), Jennifer Babiak (Eliza) and William McCauley (Col. Pickering).