Dancing all night | Theater | Style weekly

Historically, Eliza Doolittle, the protagonist of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s “My Fair Lady,” has been treated as a kind of puppet by the men around her. This poor flower girl with a Cockney accent is first sold by her father to the phonetician Henry Higgins and then bullied by Higgins into becoming a lady of gentry.

That’s no longer the case in the Lincoln Center Theater Production, coming to the Altria Theater on Tuesday. Here Eliza was pumped up into a proto #MeToo hero with the help of new additions from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, on which the musical is based, and Shaw’s screenplay from the 1938 film Higgins’ Bauer, starring Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard .

And starring in this touring production is Shereen Ahmed as Eliza. Ahmed assures that despite the additions, it’s still the “My Fair Lady” audience that they know and love.

“It’s a really fascinating exploration of class dynamics and gender politics, but it’s also hilarious and funny, and the music is engaging and incredible, so there’s something for everyone,” she says, who was reached by phone on Friday from her hometown of Baltimore.

For the uninitiated, “My Fair Lady” is set in Edwardian London and focuses on a bet Higgins makes with another linguist that he can teach Eliza to speak well enough to pass for a fair lady within six months. Higgins is self-centered and misogynistic, but Eliza perseveres and Higgins finds himself falling in love with her.

A smash hit in its day, with multiple revivals, “My Fair Lady” has long been a staple of the Broadway canon.

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Ahmed says she’s loved it since she first saw the film adaptation when she was 12, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.

“I fell in love with the whole idea of ​​this woman walking the streets of Covent Garden becoming a princess just by changing her language,” says Ahmed. “As I got older, I realized there was so much more to this show than just this woman transforming.”

Ahmed says it’s difficult to play the role eight times a week.

“I’m on stage for three hours, I speak in two different dialects, Cockney and Queen’s English, and because I’m starting with a Cockney accent, that doesn’t prepare me for the vocal success for the end of the show as a soprano,” says Ahmed . “You scream and scream for the first hour and a half, smash, and then suddenly you have this transition to ‘Dance All Night’ and ‘Show Me’ and these really beautiful arias, almost. It’s really tough and challenging logistically and technically.”

To help, Ahmed says she’s constantly taking singing lessons and constantly monitoring her voice.

“I live for routine,” she says. “It prepares for the marathon, not the sprint.”

Ahmed says the changes to this version highlight the gender politics and class struggles that already exist in the show.

“Audience will be surprised at how intellectual the show really is,” she says. “Depending on where we’re performing, some things end up differently than in other areas, so it’s a really fascinating experience on stage when the audience tells us where to go tonight.”

Broadway in Richmond’s “My Fair Lady” plays May 31-June 5 at the Altria Theater, 6 N. Laurel St. For more information, visit broadwayinrichmond.com or call (804) 592-3368.

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