“Unveiling Eliza Doolittle’s Empowerment: A Modern Interpretation and Anette’s Stellar Performance Take Center Stage”
In 2018, the Lincoln Center revival of Loerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” took a different approach, steering away from the show’s romantic themes and spotlighting Eliza’s journey of self-discovery. Director Bartlett Sher orchestrated a thoughtful update, preserving the essence of this Golden Age musical while emphasizing Eliza Doolittle’s pivotal role.
The non-Equity national tour of “My Fair Lady,” initially slated for April 2020, finally arrived in Madison this week, excluding Thursday’s performance due to the holiday and offering an additional Friday matinee.
Inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play “Pygmalion,” the musical commences amidst class clashes on an opera house street. Eliza, with her Cockney English, catches the attention of a linguistics professor who boasts about transforming her into a refined duchess within six months.
Stepping into the shoes of Eliza Doolittle was Anette Barrios-Torres, a talented bilingual Cuban-American performer from Miami, FL. Her portrayal was captivating, steadily gaining momentum as she grappled with Professor Higgins’ demanding lessons, especially making “Show Me” a show stopping moment.
Opposite her was Jonathan Grunert as Professor Higgins, delivering a performance that oscillated between a high-handed demeanor and comic relief, highlighting Higgins’ complex nature as a petulant misogynist or an obsessed academic.
The production featured notable performances by the ensemble cast, including John Adkison as Colonel Pickering, Becky Saunders as Higgins’ regal mother, and Michael Hegarty as Eliza’s degenerate father, each adding depth and charm to the narrative.
Choreographer Christopher Gattelli injected liveliness into 1912 London scenes, while design elements such as Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous period costumes and Michael Yeargen’s clever set design effectively transported the audience to the era.
However, the show had its weaknesses, such as Nathan Haltiwanger’s strained rendition of “On the Street Where You Live” and a seemingly undersized orchestra relying too much on synthesizers, slightly detracting from the experience.
Anette Barrios-Torres’s portrayal of Eliza Doolittle carried substantial weight, connecting “My Fair Lady” to more contemporary narratives, akin to Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.” Her performance highlighted the struggles of a woman in a societal landscape dictating compliance, echoing a timeless message. Eliza is genuinely interested in how complicated and messy life is and that there is nothing that’s either good or bad, but it’s mostly both.
Barrios-Torres, with her background in varied theatrical productions and her dedication to bringing vibrancy to her performances, took on the iconic role of Eliza Doolittle in Bartlett Sher’s Lincoln Center Theatre production of “My Fair Lady,” a role she debuted in November 2023 during the national tour. Her intent to illuminate spaces through her artistry, whether in theatre, music, or writing, resonates with a grounded curiosity and a playful spirit.