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Let’s Review! My Fair Lady touches theatrical perfection at Cygnet Theatre in San Diego

Allison Spratt Pearce as Eliza Doolittle and Sean Murray as Henry Higgins iron out some differences in ‘My Fair Lady’ at Cygnet Theatre.
Allison Spratt Pearce as Eliza Doolittle and Sean Murray as Henry Higgins iron out some differences in ‘My Fair Lady’ at Cygnet Theatre.
( / Ken Jacques)

The spirit of playwright George Bernard Shaw’s creation, Henry Higgins, is wonderfully embodied in actor/director Sean Murray’s portrayal of the man who sets out to mold the perfect woman — in this case, a street flower vendor — by teaching her Aristocratic manners and how to speak proper English rather than her Cockney version.

On stage at Cygnet Theatre through April 26, the story of “My Fair Lady,” is playing out to audience admiration and bursts of applause. I label it a “Must See.”

The musical numbers (book and lyrics by Alan Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe) are as exciting as if hearing them for the first time, and often produce a sing-along from the audience. The scenic design by Andrew Hull and costumes by Jeanne Reith delightfully enhance the Pygmalion tale.

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It’s a rainy night in Edwardian London and theatergoers are frantically seeking cabs on a busy street corner. It’s the perfect spot for vendors like Eliza Doolittle (Allison Spratt Pearce) who wants to sell her flowers.

Also on the corner is Henry Higgins, a phonetician, who makes a challenging remark to his companion Colonel Pickering (Tom Stephenson), a linguist, who has studied Indian dialects. Higgins boasts that if he could spend a little time teaching the flower girl manners and how to speak properly, he could pass her off as a high society lady. The bet is on, with Pickering agreeing to pay for Eliza’s expenses while she is tutored in Higgins’ home.

The ensuing songs underpin the story. After receiving Higgins’ invitation, Eliza and her flower gal pals jump into dreamland with “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” and Eliza decides to get out of the rain and take Higgins up on his offer.

It’s not long before Alfred Doolittle (Ron Choularton), Eliza’s father, learns from his drinking buddies that his daughter is no longer a street vendor, but living in Higgins’ home. With not so much as a worry about her, Alfred and cast members bellow out a rollicking “With a Little Bit of Luck.” Alfred visits Higgins and charges him with ill intentions toward his daughter. Of course, a few pounds buy him off, and he returns to his hangout.

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Pickering and Higgins decide that six months is the timeframe for Higgins to complete his goal.

At first, Eliza is excited by the nice home, the lovely clothes, and the kind affection from Henry’s housekeeper, Mrs. Pierce (Debra Wanger). But then come the putdowns she overhears Higgins telling Pickering, and the constant badgering by Higgins to pronounce words correctly, void of any compassion or encouragement.

Each actor fits his or her role perfectly. Murray is exquisite in every scene as Higgins. We detest him when he’s rude and blind to Eliza’s real attributes, but adore him when he’s funny, touching or singing songs such as “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” (The fact that Murray also directed this production speaks to his genius.)

Spratt Pearce captivates in all her scenes. Whether fretting that she has made a mistake, worrying about pleasing this man she hardly knows, or dealing with a problem father, she is Eliza Doolittle. Her beautiful voice has landed her roles in other demanding musicals like “The Sound of Music,” White Christmas” and “Cabaret.”

The production runs a bit long, but it’s so entertaining no one seems to mind. In fact, if everyone closes their eyes for a few seconds, they’ll believe they’re watching the show on a Broadway stage.

• IF YOU GO: “My Fair Lady” runs through April 26 at Cygnet Theatre Company, Old Town Stage, 4040 Twiggs St. San Diego. Tickets from $39 at (619) 337-1525 or cygnettheatre.com