Lisa O'Hare and Charles Shaughnessy
in My Fair Lady
(© Paul Lyden)
Lisa O'Hare and Charles Shaughnessy
in My Fair Lady
(© Paul Lyden)
Henry Higgins is one of those iconic roles forever impastoed with the personality of its originator, the inimitable Rex Harrison. But in Charles Repole's sometimes lackluster new production of the classic Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe musical My Fair Lady, now at the North Shore Music Theatre, Charles Shaughnessy gives the role his own felicitous spin.

The debonair actor -- best known for his television work on The Nanny -- makes for a marginally kinder, gentler taskmaster than the traditional Higgins. This is not to say that he ever edges over into outright niceness; it's just the character's rough exterior doesn't appear quite so deep or encrusted. Shaughnessy affords glimpses of wounded vulnerability, and you can easily picture this attractive yet odd duck earlier in his development, already scoffing at the culture he grew up in and determined to pursue his own peculiar interest in phonetics.

And the good news is that Shaughnessy can really sing -- not that the role, as written, requires much in the way of lyricism. He can bark as needed, but he also puts his warm baritone to good use in the self-deluding portions of "I'm an Ordinary Man."

As Eliza, Lisa O'Hare (who has previously essayed the role to great acclaim) is absolute perfection. Never overplaying the Cockney-pluck card, O'Hare turns the guttersnipe's gradual makeover into an experience of delicate intimacy. We see the beaten, abandoned child within, the recessive waif who knows her main chance lies in her instinct to please. With admirable restraint (supported by technique so subtle, you scarcely know it's there), O'Hare takes on Eliza's all-too-familiar songs and makes them startlingly fresh.

Bill Dietrich is likewise strong as Eliza's philosopher-in-the-rough father, Alfred P. Doolittle, and Hayden Tee is the embodiment of youthful ardor as her somewhat simple-minded suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill.

The only real disappointment is Peter Cormican as Higgins's cohort, Colonel Pickering. He looks and sounds so cranky throughout that he usurps Higgins' rightful stance. Furthermore, there's little evidence why Eliza would find in Pickering a more supportive tutor.

Other than the acting, there's little evidence of the magic that North Shore was known for in flusher days; the show has unimaginative choreography (by Michael Lichtefeld), plodding accompaniment (under the baton of Craig Barna), and less-than-memorable production values (the rented costumes were assembled by Gail Baldoni, and the bare-bones set is designed by Howard C. Jones). And yet, Shaughnessy and O'Hare manage to create a world with its own grandeur.