My Fair Lady
Lerner and Loewe
The musical adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion nearly didn’t see the light of day. Although Shaw’s play (1912) was perfect material for a musical, with its rags to riches story and larger than life characters, the five act, wordy playtext daunted a number of prestigious librettist / composer teams until Lerner and Loewe made a breakthrough in 1954.
The resulting confection is a layer cake of pleasure. At the base is Shaw’s witty playscript with its unforgettable lines; then the delightful libretto and music; and the icing on top is a live performance bursting with talent.
Daniel Evans’s enthusiasm for musical theatre shines through this production. The set and costumes, the music, the dance routines, the acting performances cohere to make a thoroughly enjoyable whole.
The evening starts with three very familiar numbers, "Why Can’t the English", "Wouldn’t it be Loverly" and "With a little Bit of Luck", which test the mettle and display the skills of the main performers.
Dominic West is a superb Professor Higgins, in the mould of Rex Harrison in the film version but bringing to it his own brand of self-obsession and petulance. And he can sing! His speak singing is excellent, and his timing perfect. After some of the serious TV roles he has appeared in recently, it is a pleasure to see another side of his talent.
Carly Bawden as Eliza has a big voice, and a lively acting persona. She makes a convincing transition from flower seller to lady, and shows her versatility in numbers as different as "Just You Wait Henry Higgins", "The Rain in Spain" and "I Could Have Danced All Night". She also deals very effectively with the comedy of the role. ‘Gin was mother’s milk to her’, etc.
Similarly, Martyn Ellis as Alfred Doolittle, creates a convincing and amusing character, trawls the script effectively for its key lines and comic moments, and also sings and dances with tremendous gusto. "Get Me to the Church on Time", with able support from the excellent song and dance team, is a show stopper.
There are also strong and enjoyable performances from Anthony Calf, a charming Colonel Pickering, Nicola Sloane, a deep voiced and morally responsible Mrs Pearce, and Richenda Carey as the long suffering Mrs Higgins, who has learned to live with her son’s eccentricity. Louis Maskell is a swooningly love sick swain with a beautiful tenor voice, displayed in "On the Street Where You Live."
The production looks good. Paul Wills’s basic set is three huge arched windows reminiscent of Covent Garden, which adapts to a number of settings including Ascot and the ballroom scene by the addition of props and effective lighting. A sound effect thrown across the auditorium gives the impression of a race in progress. A revolve presents Professor Higgins’s study, a solid set packed with books, phonographs and other machines to aid voice production, which are used to great effect in the production.
Costumes include the rough and ready wear of the Covent Garden workers, as well as the elegant clothes of the opera and ball goers, who also comprise the horse racing set. The Ascot and other scenes are a visual reminder that this is a play about two classes.
The excellent team of singer-dancers appear in a variety of well characterised roles, as well as performing their dance routines with enormous and joyful gusto.
This is a production that is a fresh as paint, but with serious undertones. Some of the lines about class difference strike a chord today, and it is thought provoking to follow both Higgins and Eliza on a journey that leads to co-existence if not love.
Reviewer: Velda Harris