The long-awaited 60th Anniversary production of Lerner and Lowe’s My Fair Lady finally reached Brisbane last week, and word in the foyers is that sold-out audiences are not disappointed.
A loving recreation of the original production, directed by none other than the first Fair Lady on Broadway, Dame Julie Andrews, the performances, music, costumes and staging are nothing short of lov-er-ly.
From the first moments, audiences are swept away to England of yesteryear, complete with men in top hats, ladies carrying parasols and the scampish street entertainers and flower sellers. As the top-billed cast make their entrances (Charles Edwards, Anna O’Byrne, Reg Livermore, Robyn Nevin and Tony Llewellyn Jones), spontaneous applause erupts from a clearly star-struck audience.
For the minority unfamiliar with the story, My Fair Lady is an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s story Pygmalion, which follows cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle from her meagre life on the streets of London, through the ultimate transformation into a lady of society, at the hands of linguist and Henry Higgins. The project begins as a bet between Higgins and retired Colonel Pickering, but soon becomes a battle of wills and wits as the trio embark on the speech lessons that are the crux of Eliza’s education.
The music and songs will be familiar to many, and there are uncanny moments when Anna O’Byrne’s performance echoes Julie Andrew’s own signature vocals and indeed mannerisms. Her performance is warm and engaging, drawing the audience in for the journey that will alter her lifestyle and perspective. Charles Edwards draws many laughs as the grumpy but strangely charming Higgins and the repartee between the Colonel, Eliza and himself is fast, sassy and entertaining, if decidedly chauvinistic at times (a sign of the original story’s setting, not the direction of this revival).
Reg Livermore as Alfred P Doolittle and Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins live up to their theatrical-royalty reputations, arguably stealing the limelight from their esteemed colleagues on occasion.
Theatre lovers will gasp and smile at the attention to detail in Cecil Beaton’s (design) and John David Ridge’s (recreation) costumes, which are recreated from original production sketches, which are peppered throughout the commemorative program book as well for closer inspection. The scenery and sets, of which there are several, are large imposing, authentically transporting you from London’s gloomy alleyways to the famous Ascot Racecourse and the parlours of the aristocracy with swift changes. The most magical sequence involves the Embassy Ball where Eliza makes her society debut – with revolving rooms, domed ceiling and glittering chandeliers all flying in in full view of the audience – it garnered its own round of applause on opening night.
So the multi-million dollar question is, does this show live up to the hype? This reviewer was definitely impressed, and for more than 3 hours of entertainment, by world-class actors immersed in stunning stagecraft and production design, My Fair Lady is must-see theatre.
Company: Opera Australia and John Frost
Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane
Dates: to 30 April 2017
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Pygmalion (New Theatre) – theatre review
- Avenue Q (BAT) – theatre review
- Lady Beatle (La Boite) – cabaret review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television