It’s a show of its time. Well, it isn’t really – it’s a show first produced in the 1950s, with this production placing the action in 1913. The set changes seem more colossal than they are, perhaps because of the pedestrian pace in which they occur, and the lush orchestrations, ably supplied by the English National Opera Orchestra – conducted by Alex Parker at the performance I attended (the programme lists the musical director/conductor as Gareth Valentine) – play their part in ensuring the three-hour running time very much feels like it.
That’s not entirely a bad thing in itself, as audiences will feel as though they’ve been given their money’s worth. Eliza Doolittle (Amara Okereke), in this production, is black as well as working-class, which gives the storyline an added dimension, if one wishes to interpret it as such. Here, a black person is effectively trained by a white professor, Henry Higgins (the aptly named Harry Hadden-Paton, for whom “hurricanes hardly ever happen”), to behave in a more socially acceptable fashion, to the point of learning to enunciate in a seemingly upper-class manner.
I suspect people looking for something different are going to come away feeling they might as well have not bothered being financially and geographically inconvenienced and stayed home to watch the motion picture of My Fair Lady instead. It’s an assured revival, and it’s a largely faithful one, with nothing in the way of nods to the world as it is today, in a departure from certain revivals of certain other shows, that like to give audiences hooks to latch onto. There’s nothing wrong with that: this production is confident enough to not feel the need to allude to the present day, which makes the show feel like escapism even though Covent Garden and Wimpole Street were and are identifiable central London locations.
Malcolm Sinclair’s Colonel Pickering and Dame Vanessa Redgrave’s Mrs Higgins are delightful supporting characters – the former counteracts Henry’s somewhat abrasive manner, while the latter has some withering put-downs, delivered exquisitely. Redgrave’s use of a walking stick on stage (in a song-and-dance musical, no less) is indicative of physical frailty, and in the end, provides a contrast between that and an evidently sharp mind.
Stephen K Amos, who plays Eliza’s father Alfred, has brilliant timing, presumably on account of his work in comedy, though one gets the feeling that he too would benefit from elocution lessons from Professor Higgins. Somewhat ironically, Okereke’s Eliza has a more convincing RP accent than a Cockney one. It was a delight to hear such a beautiful soprano voice glide through ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’, and she demonstrates perfect comic timing in a series of greetings and salutations with miscellaneous members of the establishment at the Ascot racecourse.
Hadden-Paton, meanwhile, puts in a very physical performance, sometimes eliciting raucous laughter from the audience, and always a reflection of a mind racing at top speed. Maureen Beattie’s Mrs Pearce, Henry’s housekeeper (more ‘aitches’ for Eliza to get her hurting head around) is stoicism personified, and Sharif Afifi as Eliza’s besotted love interest, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, hams up his performance to the max. It works, though, as the character is overdoing it in his expressions of affection.
The costumes (Catherine Zuber) are all stylish and appropriate. Likewise, the choreography (Christopher Gattelli) never seems out of place. Seasoned theatregoers will, I suspect, have seen more pleasurable productions before. That doesn’t stop this one from being a decent night out. “Loverly”, even.
Review by Chris Omaweng
My Fair Lady tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a young Cockney flower seller, and Henry Higgins, a linguistics professor who is determined to transform her into his idea of a “proper lady”. But who is really being transformed?
With a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, MY FAIR LADY boasts a score including the classic songs “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture Pygmalion, Lerner & Loewe’s MY FAIR LADY premiered on Broadway in March 1956, winning 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical, and becoming the longest-running musical in Broadway history at the time. Following this success, the production transferred to London in 1958, where it played in the West End for five and a half years.
James L. Nederlander, Jamie Wilson, Hunter Arnold, Crossroads Live, Playful Productions and the English National Opera present the Lincoln Center Theater production of Lerner & Loewe’s MY FAIR LADY. Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe, sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Catherine Zuber, lighting by Donald Holder, sound by Marc Salzberg, hair & wigs by Tom Watson, musical direction by Gareth Valentine, musical supervision by Ted Sperling, choreography by Christopher Gattelli, directed by Bartlett Sher.
My Fair Lady
London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES
7 May – 27 August 2022