My Fair Lady
Rating: 5 / 5
It’s quite a feat for a 60-year-old musical to retain the freshness and pizzazz it had when it was brand-new, but this 60th anniversary production of Lerner and Loewe’s classic show My Fair Lady achieves it.
This production exudes charm and slick direction by the star of the original My Fair Lady, Dame Julie Andrews, as she moves the action along, never allowing the pace to flag.
So often with musicals, casting can make or break a show, and in this case the casting is flawless—proving that the Great Dame knew exactly what she was about.
Firstly you must have a fine singer and actor in the pivotal role of Eliza, the cockney flower girl who becomes a refined Edwardian young lady. Melbourne performer Anna O’Byrne is totally believable in this transformation. Her honest cockney Eliza shows the steel that is part of her character, and it is this quality that makes the character a survivor. In the memorable scene after Eliza has been a hit at the ball, the men celebrate their triumph, totally ignoring an icily fuming Eliza. O’Byrne is a model of how to claim the stage by simply standing still.
Her glorious singing voice and fine acting skills show why this local girl is in demand on London’s West End.
The other essential ingredient of a successful production of this iconic musical is casting the right arch-chauvinist, Professor Henry Higgins. This role, made famous by Rex Higgins, requires a superlative actor who has brilliant articulation and the ability to perform the famous patter songs.
English actor Charles Edwards (Downton Abbey, The Halcyon) steps easily into Harrison’s big shoes and plays the role with panache. Edwards gives the selfish, opinionated Higgins a surprisingly human dimension in the final scene, when a dose of self-awareness makes him realise that perhaps he needs more from life than simply achieving professional goals. We are left with the hope that the Higgins of the future will be humanised by the presence of Eliza in his life.
Veteran actor Reg Livermore is a lively Alfred Doolittle, and we laugh at his ready cockney wit and enjoy his exuberance as he dances and sings. Robyn Nevin is exquisite as Mrs Higgins, Henry’s exasperated mother, who takes a shine to Eliza but displays a fine caustic wit towards her son when necessary. In the supporting cast, Deidre Rubinstein’s housekeeper Mrs Pearce, Tony Llewellyn-Jones’ Colonel Pickering and Australia’s Got Talent winner Mark Vincent’s Freddy are all well-drawn characters played with style.
My Fair Lady is based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, and the Edwardian costumes, taken from the original designs by Cecil Beaton, are a feast for the eye, reminding us of the extreme elegance of the clothing of this era for the upper middle class with money, and the tattiness of the cockneys’ costumes for those without it.
The famous tunes are brought to life by musical director Guy Simpson’s orchestra, making this a show where director Dame Julie’s sure hand has created theatrical magic.
Highlight: a show that charms from start to finish
Red flag: none
My Fair Lady is currently at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre and returns to Sydney from August 24 at the Capitol Theatre.