Broadway star Laird Mackintosh begins an interview with a gentle warning: “I’ve got a puppy dog that might make a little noise while we’re talking.”
He’s referring to his 5-year-old collie Tommy who, it turns out, sits sweetly at his side, not making a sound as Mackintosh chats about the celebrated national tour of “My Fair Lady” coming to the Peace Center for eight performances, Jan. 28-Feb. 2.
“This is a very lavish production,” says Mackintosh, who plays the prickly phonetics professor Henry Higgins.
“We’re very lucky because we have a big cast, big beautiful sets, beautiful costumes.”
This tour of the Lerner-and-Loewe musical is the same Lincoln Center Theater production that won raves on Broadway.
The New York Times said director Bartlett Sher’s staging is “thrilling, glorious and better than it ever was.”
The production also is making history as perhaps the most diverse “Fair Lady” ever, with a cast that stars Shereen Ahmed, the first person of color to take on the role of Eliza Doolittle on Broadway. Ahmed grew up in Egypt.
“We provide a fresh look at the show,” Mackintosh says, speaking by phone in the middle of a five-week tour stop at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. “We’re very proud of this production and it’s wonderful to see how the audience loves and enjoys the show so much.”
The national tour, with a cast of almost three dozen (fairly large for a touring show these days), launched only a month ago.
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” the story follows Eliza, a cockney flower girl whom Higgins encounters one cold night at Covent Garden Market in London. Higgins declares to his friend Col. Pickering that in three weeks he could transform Eliza into a duchess by polishing her speech and manners.
The musical features such classic numbers as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “On the Street Where You Live.”
Eliza and Henry Higgins have one of the most famous love/hate relationships in musical theater.
“Our director Bartlett Sher encouraged us not to shy away from the wonderful arguments and conflicts in the script,” Mackintosh says. “I think that’s what gives the story such oomph. The audience watches these two characters butt heads and also be attracted to each other and have this wonderful ambiguous relationship.”
Ahmed plays Eliza not as Higgins’ creation but as a young woman fiercely determined to better her life.
“She’s an Eliza for our times, and we see her have this spectacular evolution throughout the show,” he says.
Higgins himself — curmudgeonly at best, misogynist at worst — has a love/hate relationship with the audience. He’s often quite brutal to Eliza.
“He’s certainly a flawed character,” Mackintosh says. “That is one thing that is unquestionably marvelous about ‘My Fair Lady.’ There are things you dislike about his character but also elements you admire.”
Meanwhile, Tommy the collie has remained silent throughout the interview. For him, there’s only admiration.
Paul Hyde, a longtime Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Greenville Journal. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.
If you go
What: “My Fair Lady,” by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music).
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28-30; 8 p.m. Jan. 31; 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 1; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 2.
Where: Peace Center.
Info: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org.