Opera Australia and John Frost Present MY FAIR LADY

Lush, lovely and loyal revival

By Bradley Storer

Rapturous strings and a painted scrim of the Thames welcomed the audience into the world of Edwardian-era London on the Melbourne opening night at My Fair Lady. This production under the direction of the original Eliza Doolittle, Dame Julie Andrews herself, hums with vitality, and with sets and costumes modelled on the original Broadway production (by Oliver Smith and Cecil Beaton respectively) one can feel the wonder the show must have provoked in the audience of yesterday, the Ascot Gavotte a particular moment of sheer visual loveliness.

My Fair Lady Photo by Jeff Busby.jpg

Anna O’Byrne is perfectly cast as Eliza. Her silvery soprano handled the score with ease, deploying Eliza’s feistiness and vulnerability in equal measure, and winning the audience’s heart in all her iconic numbers – but especially in the giddy and rapturous ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’. Her standing ovation at the end of the night was well-earned.

Charles Edwards manages to find the heart and humanity in the often reprehensible Henry Higgins, but doesn’t shy away from his acid tongue or biting wit in ‘Why Can’t The English?’ and ‘Hymn to Him’, managing to adroitly combine the ‘talk-singing’ style of the originator Rex Harrison with moments of understated lyrical voice to create a more individualised interpretation.

As Higgins’ closest confidante, Colonel Pickering, Tony Llewellyn-Jones is charmingly hilarious in the duo’s back and forth and in his own small moments onstage. Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins steals the show effortlessly with just a few lines, subtly suggesting where Henry has inherited his quick wit and turn of phrase from.

The scene-stealing role of Alfred P. Doolittle is here played by Reg Livermore, who places his own stamp upon the part and nails the cheeky paean to laziness ‘With a Little Bit of Luck’. As the lovesick Freddy, Mark Vincent has a lush and easy vocal tone, delivering a lovely ‘On the Street Where You Live’. The ensemble are fantastic throughout, bringing superb energy and vivacity to their characters and shining in Christopher Gattelli‘s choreography for ‘I’m Getting Married in the Morning’.

There has been critical discussion over whether certain elements and the ending of the musical should have been changed for this new production, and indeed on opening night there were moments where the blatant misogyny of Higgins drew audible gasps from the audience – since this has been staged as a recreation of the original 1956 production, I felt that trying to sanitise the darker undertones of the show that are more apparent to society today would be dishonest. It is doubtful the work can ever be described as ‘feminist’, since the musical seems to be more actually focused on Higgins’ journey than Eliza’s and concerns itself more with the effects of the class system rather than gender, but by refusing to soften the sheer awfulness of Higgins’ character it can be argued the production maintains a measure of integrity, even as it is slightly baffling why the newly self-empowered Eliza would choose to return to him.

Overall, a charming and beautiful revisitation of a classic sure to delight any audience!

Dates: May 16th – July 27th (Melbourne)

Times: WednesdaySaturday 7:30pm, Tuesday 1pm, Wednesday 1pm, Sunday 3pm

Venue: Regent Theatre, 191 Collins St, Melbourne

Bookings: Ticketmaster.com.au or the venue box office

Image by Jeff Busby