Thursday, 18 May 2017

My Fair Lady, May 16, 2017 ****1/2

Book and Lyrics by Alan J. Lerner & Music by Frederick Loewe
Produced by Opera Australia and John Frost 
At Regent Theatre, Melbourne, until July 27, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Tuesday, May 16, 2017 
Stars: ****1/2
 Review NOT published in Herald Sun. It appears only on this blog. KH
My Fair Lady, Anna O'Byrne & cast -photo Jeff Busby
Now, don’t pretend you’re too cool to sing along with the songs in Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady because you know they are eminently singable. Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? and Get Me To The Church On Time stick in your brain like ear worms.

Julie Andrews, who is musical theatre royalty, was the first Eliza Dolittle in 1956, and she now demonstrates her directing prowess in this sleek, funny and stylish production that features Australian soprano, Anna O’Byrne, as the spirited Eliza, and Charles Edwards, British star of stage and screen, as the bombastic Henry Higgins.

Lerner and Loewe based My Fair Lady on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion. If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know the story, Higgins is a ‘phoneticist’ (he studies accents and language) who makes a wager with Colonel Pickering (Tony Llewellyn-Jones) that he, Higgins, can transform Eliza’s voice and appearance from a rough flower seller to a lady in six months.

Andrews pays homage to the 1956 production by reviving Oliver Smith’s set design that features London’s grubby streets and Covent Garden flower markets, as well as its opulent homes and extravagant ballrooms bedecked with chandeliers.

In an inspired choice, this production recreates Cecil Beaton’s incomparable costumes that range from the earthy tones and shabby fabrics of street urchins, to remarkable, lavish ball gowns and those unforgettable and exquisite black and white outfits at the Ascot races.
My Fair Lady cast -photo Jeff Busby
Edwards’ consummate performance as the arrogant, pompous Professor Higgins elicits the audience’s outrage at Higgins’ bluntness and insensitivity that borders on cruelty, then, with impeccable comic timing, tilts the crowd into guffaws at his self-absorbed, mummy’s boy behaviour.

Using a clipped, spoken delivery rather than song, Edwards highlights Higgins’ smug chauvinism in Why Can't The English? and A Hymn to Him, then, just when we are certain that we loath him, he turns us on our heads with Higgins’ warmth and secret longing for Eliza in I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face.

O’Byrne’s performance is assured and her voice is both powerful and sweet in tone, doing justice to the fanciful Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?, the feisty Just You Wait and Show Me, the triumphant The Rain in Spain, and the romantic and celebratory I Could Have Danced All Night.

Her Eliza is charming and her transformation from scruffy, rough-toned Cockney to articulate and elegant lady is joyful and entertaining, although the changes in her voice and behaviour from start to finish could perhaps be more extreme.
My Fair Lady cast - photo Jeff Busby
The audacious and hilarious Reg Livermore is delectably vulgar, cheeky and greedy as Eliza’s booze-soaked father, Alfred P. Dolittle, and his renditions, with chorus members, of With A Little Bit of Luck and Get Me To The Church On Time, are crowd-pleasers.

Robin Nevin is deliciously refined and wittily restrained as Henry’s mother, Mrs. Higgins, while Llewellyn-Jones is appealingly bluff and bumbling as Colonel Hugh Pickering, and Mark Vincent’s velvet voice expresses Freddy Eynsford-Jones’ puppy-dog adoration during On The Street Where You Live.

Under the musical direction of Guy Simpson, the orchestra gives an assured performance of Frederick Loewe’s inimitable music, while the accomplished chorus provides rich vocals and vivacious choreography (Christopher Gattelli) in the ensemble numbers.

There is something delightfully old-fashioned and endearing about this production with its picture frame / chocolate box, proscenium stage and swift scene changes that take place magically behind the lowered curtain.

It is difficult to fault this captivating production, and Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady certainly earns its place as one of the most memorable and exceptional musicals ever written.

By Kate Herbert

Anna O’Byrne Eliza Dolittle
Charles Edwards Henry Higgins
Reg Livermore Alfred P. Dolittle
Robin Nevin Mrs. Higgins
Tony Llewellyn-Jones  Colonel Hugh Pickering
Mark Vincent Freddy Eynsford-Jones
Mrs. Pearce Deidre Rubenstein

Creative Team
 Directed by Julie Andrews
Musical Director  Guy Simpson
Choreographer Christopher Gattelli
Set design Oliver Smith (from original)
Costumes Cecil Beaton
Costume recreation John David Ridge
Lighting design Richard Pilbrow
Sound design Michael Waters
  Anna O'Byrne & Charles Edwards  -Photo BrianGeach
  Anna O'Byrne  - photo Jeff Busby
Act 1
Why Can't The English? – Professor Higgins
Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? – Eliza and Male Quartet
With A Little Bit of Luck– Alfred Doolittle, Harry, and Jamie
I'm an Ordinary Man – Professor Higgins
With a Little Bit of Luck (Reprise) – Alfred Doolittle and Ensemble
Just You Wait – Eliza
The Servants' Chorus (Poor Professor Higgins) – Mrs. Pearce and Servants
The Rain in Spain– Professor Higgins, Eliza, and Colonel Pickering
I Could Have Danced All Night – Eliza, Mrs. Pearce, and Servants
Ascot Gavotte – Ensemble
On The Street Where You Live– Freddy
Eliza's Entrance/Embassy Waltz – The Orchestra

Act 2
You Did It – Colonel Pickering, Professor Higgins, Mrs. Pearce, and Servants
Just You Wait (Reprise) – Eliza
On the Street Where You Live (Reprise) – Freddy
Show Me – Eliza and Freddy
The Flower Market/Wouldn't It Be Loverly? (Reprise) – Eliza and Male Quartet
Get me To The Church On Time– Alfred Doolittle and Ensemble
A Hymn to Him – Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering
Without You – Eliza and Professor Higgins
I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face– Professor Higgins
I Could Have Danced All Night (Reprise) / Finale – The Orchestra

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