In 2016, My Fair Lady celebrated its Diamond Jubilee with a series of stunning shows around Australia, including a run at the Sydney Opera House. An encore season at the Capitol Theatre with most of the same principal cast and crew returns in 2017 and it still dazzles like a rare diamond. It is a reminder that this little lady may be a tad older but she’s still one fair and sweet rose of the theatre.
This musical is based on the play, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. It was adapted for the stage with the book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner (An American in Paris) and music by Frederick Loewe. The original 1956 Broadway production saw Dame Julie Andrews playing the titular role while Audrey Hepburn played the lead character in the classic film. For this 60th Anniversary Australian tour it is a coup to have Andrews in the director’s chair. She helps fashion a musical that is quite simply one visually sumptuous slice of Edwardian England.
Anna O’Byrne (Love Never Dies) is an absolute gem and stars as Eliza Doolittle, a common and cockney street hawker who earns a crust by selling flowers. She encounters a kind-hearted linguist named, Colonel Pickering (Tony Llewllyn-Jones) and an insensitive phonetics instructor named Professor Higgins (Charles Edwards.) These two older gentlemen have a bet that they can transform this impoverished young woman into a lady in six months. It’s a classic, rags-to-riches/Cinderella story and Doolittle is one determined, young woman.
This musical has long been a popular one and it’s easy to see why. It is filled with memorable and catchy show tunes like “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “With A Little Bit Of Luck” and “Just You Wait,” to name a few. These are performed by a strong, 23 piece orchestra of musicians sourced from Opera Australia.
The bulk of the show revolves around the interplay between Doolittle, Higgins and Pickering but the supporting cast also do a fabulous job. Reg Livermore (Wicked) plays Eliza’s affable and scheming father and earns some of the biggest laughs from the show. Robyn Nevin is wonderfully robust and has a dry sense of humour as Mrs Higgins, while Joel Parnis is a kind sweetheart as Freddy, Eliza’s one-time love interest. The ensemble also do a commendable job of convincing us that they’re the poor working class of Covent Garden and the glitterati at Ascot. This latter scene is especially striking and memorable and look out for the subtle joke about two women in the exact same outfit because it’s such a clever, little aside!
The costumes here have been lovingly recreated by John David Ridge who once worked as original designer, Cecil Beaton’s assistant. These have been painstakingly rendered in order to resemble Beaton’s initial creations for the Broadway production. This is also the case for the sets originally designed by Oliver Smith and adapted for this modern production by Rosaria Sinisi. These small touches with so much attention to detail allow the audience to take a step back in time and enjoy a nostalgic trip down memory lane. The scene changes take a little longer than most modern productions but when you see the opulent end product it’s certainly worth the wait.
My Fair Lady is like a history lesson about a bygone era that is crossed with a feel-good fairy-tale. A resolute young woman is transformed into an impeccable princess of the utmost style and grace. This is a loverly (just kidding) musical to take your parents to because you’ll be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the visual splendour, nuanced characterisation and the funny jokes. With a little bit of luck you will have a grand old time with one genteel dame.
Originally published on 29 August 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/sydneys-encore-of-my-fair-ladys-diamond-jubilee-production-offers-audiences-a-grand-old-time/