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My Fair Lady By George, Masquerade Theatre's done it! It's taken one of Broadway's crown jewels and polished it like Tiffany's. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's legendary musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's magical and most popular play, Pygmalion, sparkles. The evening is an unbridled success, full of definitive performances, rousing dance numbers, a stunning Ascot scene and Masquerade's patented brand of performing that lets us the audience share the actors' delight in putting on a show. As Eliza, Kristina Sullivan, so sublime whenever she appears, goes one better in this. The vocals lie in her sweet spot, and she deftly tosses off the Cockney lilt of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," the Fury's tempest of "Show Me" and "Without You," and the dawning romance of "I Could Have Danced All Night." That she's an Edwardian eyeful in her Cecil Beatonesque Ascot gown, all furbelowed in black and white with gargantuan hat, only aids in the believable transformation from guttersnipe to woman. Company stalwart Luther Chakurian gives priggish snob Henry Higgins a no-nonsense attitude, seemingly unconcerned with anyone but himself. Once confronted by Eliza, who pierces his armor, he roars into life realizing what he has unleashed — he likes it. Dominic Abney overlays gruff yet clear-eyed chimney sweep Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father, with raspy gravel and devilish life force beneath the soot, with his "Get Me to the Church on Time," a rousing hymn to his reluctance to enter the middle class and share its morality. Cole Ryden is a sweet-voiced, ardently silly suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill; Allison Sumrall, as Mrs. Higgins, another of Shaw's very practical mothers, gives this imposing character a deeply felt center; while Adam Delka's Colonel Pickering seems the very model of a modern major general, or at least a Shavian one. The entire ensemble catches fire, especially the Cockney quartet of Eric Ferguson, Matt Kriger, Brad Zimmerman and David Smith, who serenade Eliza and Doolittle through their spirited numbers. The choreography by Laura Babbitt and Michelle Macicek is lively and well-paced; the setting by Amanda McBee, especially Higgins's Edwardian linguistic laboratory, is well-stocked with period geegaws; and the aforementioned eye-popping costumes by Libby Evans and those dreadnought hats by Diana Perez are wonders to behold. The lighting could be improved, though, and we miss those creamy rich Broadway orchestrations now played only by six. The production, directed by Phillip Duggins with even more than his customary flair, flows from Cockney square to Walpole Street townhouse to bring life to this show in an abso-blumin'-lutely loverly way. Through November 27. Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-868-9696. — DLG

Luther Chakurian and Kristina Sullivan in My Fair Lady.
Morris Malakoff
Luther Chakurian and Kristina Sullivan in My Fair Lady.

Oliver Twist Charles Dickens's classic tale of orphan Oliver and his most adventurous "progress" in the underworld of Victorian London gets a faithful retelling in Neil Bartlett's ultra-theatrical adaptation at Theatre Southwest. Bartlett decides to go all "theatrical" in his retelling, as if plain old dramatizing weren't enough for this 1837 masterpiece. Here, he overlays scenes with tableaux vivants, a device from the Victorian stage where the action freezes in a well-composed picture. This hoary convention might still work, but not when it happens in the middle of a scene. It stops the action deader than a door nail. Dickens's mighty work is rich with incident and overflowing with iconic portraits that have become firmly etched in the world's consciousness. Who doesn't know Oliver's plea for another bowl of gruel, "Please, sir, I want some more"? Who isn't familiar with the perverse machinations of Fagin, master of his ragamuffin army of hooligans and petty street criminals, led by the Artful Dodger, prince of pickpockets? And what about slut Nancy with her psychotic attraction to Bill Sikes, one of literature's most sadistic villains? With his face "like an angel," little Caleb Ortega is the very picture of Oliver and is most sympathetic. He must constantly react to all manner of situations, none too pleasant, and he acquits himself like a trooper. John Stevens eats up Fagin, crouching over like a crooked spider to work his evil ways. In his worn greatcoat, he insinuates himself with false modesty and gentlemanly pretense. Liz King, as Nancy, is handsome enough for a Cockney beauty gone to seed, and her misguided love for Bill is plain to all. What a fantastic horror Adan Inteuz makes as Sikes, amoral and threatening, solid and moving like a shark. Avery Stinson, as the Artful Dodger, moves like he could pick a pocket or two and gives this street kid a very cool reading. The subsidiary characters are handled with authentic finesse by Carolyn Montgomery, Monica Passley, Michel Stevens, Casey Coale and Bruce Blifford. All of them would've been granted a nod of approval by Dickens. The tribe of lost boys, however, needs tightening up to be a more effective gang. These kids aren't playing at the arcade after school; it's life or death on the mean streets of London in 1837. Make it real. The tale is timeless, and Theatre Southwest's telling, under David Holloway's direction, is eminently watchable. Through November 30. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG

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