In its 60th anniversary production, My Fair Lady has opened in Melbourne at the Regent Theatre after a successful opening at the Sydney Opera House, directed by the one of the most loved and well known royalties of musical theatre, Dame Julie Andrews.
This is the classic and endearing tale of Eliza Doolittle, who transforms from a poor Cockney flower hawker to a well-spoken lady, able to blend into the upper class as a consequential victim of a bet between the misogynistic and arrogant phonetics expert Professor Henry Higgins and travelling scholar Colonel Hugh Pickering.
Much like classifying everything in the universe as either being a potato, or not, musical theatre productions are known more so either for their movie version, or as a stage performance. My Fair Lady is certainly no potato and is a faithful adaptation of the classic 1913 Lerner and Loewe stage play, although heavily influenced by the popular 1964 film starring the legendary Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.
Andrews has faithfully recreated this stage production and simply put, if you loved the film adaptation, you will dance all night to this nostalgic delight. There is very little to fault about the production itself. Anna O’Byrne (Eliza Doolittle) not only followed in Hepburn’s footsteps but made the role her own with the needed balance of passion, humour and vulnerability.
Charles Edwards’ brilliant portrayal of Higgins led the audience to gasp and scoff audibly through his woman-hating banter, a defence mechanism of his own fear of commitment and loneliness. It would have been ‘loverly’ to see more of this derisive passion during the rendition of ‘I’m an Ordinary Man’, instead of just pacing and ranting.
The supporting cast of Reg Livermore (Alfred P. Doolittle), Robyn Nevin (Mrs Higgins), Mark Vincent (Freddy Eynsford-Hill) and Tony Llewellyn-Jones (Colonel Pickering) each appeared to be lifted from the feature film, in both stage presence, and the timing of their classic punchy one-liners. Livermore stole every scene he was in, and worked the stage magnificently, even though he was in reality circling around continuously for the most part.
And this is a part I was perhaps most hesitant about given this was one of my recently passed Mother’s favourite musicals. There are so many quips and classic moments in My Fair Lady, if one of them failed, it would have been to the entire performance’s detriment. But from “Move your bloomin’ arse!” to the rain in Spain, this was not only an enjoyable trip down memory lane, but also recaptured an important part of my childhood.
The music is what makes this play timeless (Guy Simpson, Musical Director) and the orchestra was simply magnificent. Each song or dance (Christopher Gattelli, Choreography) was brought to life with classic costuming again faithful to the title (Cecil Beaton, Costume design). The set design was a highlight (Oliver Smith, Set Design; Richard Pilbrow, Lighting design), in particular the transformation of the ballroom.
If there was any fault, it appeared that even though the stage looked amazing, certain scenes seemed a bit small on the stage, perhaps an effect of being designed for the Joan Sutherland Theatre instead of the Regent, and inversely, some of the ensemble dance numbers looked cramped and in each other’s way.
My Fair Lady, although set in the past, is still extremely relevant today. It not only parodies the chauvinistic nature of our society, but carries the strong message that it is not how a person is heard or seen that makes them who they are, it is how they are treated. It clearly depicts how a lady should behave – with fierce determination and independence.
If only Higgins could see how much of his beloved tongue has been ‘done in’ by the way of social media and an indifferent school system today. This is a show for the fans and is also quite adequate to serve as an introduction to this classic musical now 60 years young.
My Fair Lady
Regent Theatre, 191 Collins Street, Melbourne
Performance: Tuesday 16 May 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to late July 2017
Capitol Theatre, Campbell Street, Haymarket (Sydney)
Season: 24 August – 24 September 2017
For more information, visit: www.myfairladymusical.com.au for details.
Image: The Ballroom scene from My Fair Lady – photo by Jeff Busby
Review: Jimmy Twin