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My Fair Lady presented by GSOV - Review

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by Fiona Anderson (subscribe)
A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Event: -
By jove, I think they've got it
Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Victoria (GSOV) is making its first foray into the world of Broadway Musicals with its current production of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. This is no mean feat; the show has a running time of around three hours, a cast of around 50 performers, including 11 principal and major roles, various set changes, costumes that change from a street setting to a race meeting to a ball, and accompaniment by a full orchestra. In other words, it's a major production, and I'm pleased to report that GSOV has done a brilliant job in bringing together all the elements to deliver a show that is fresh, sparkling and highly entertaining.

My Fair Lady presented by GSOV - Review
Eliza Doolittle (Lauren Lee Innes-Youren) dreams of owning her own flower shop

The curtain rises to the streets of Edwardian London, and we are transported to a time and era when there were simple, yet often happy lives on the streets. Eliza Doolittle (Lauren Lee Innis-Youren) is selling posies of flowers when she becomes aware she is being observed, her words recorded by a well-dressed man. Thinking he may be a police officer, trying to 'do' her for some petty crime, she protests her innocence. The unknown man reveals himself to be Professor Henry Higgins (Ash Cooper), 'an expert dialectician and grammarian'. Colonel Hugh Pickering (Kierin Murphy), who is known to Higgins and also has an interest in linguistics, is also present, and, in a rather arrogant display, Higgins announces that given six months to work with Eliza he could transform her into a duchess.

While Higgins and Pickering wander off into the night, Eliza is left to ponder her future. She aspires to have her own flower shop, seemingly impossible in her current circumstances. It is perhaps this ambition, paired with a chance meeting with her father, who has just been thrown out of a pub and begs her for money, that leads her to Higgins' door to announce she will take up his challenge.

And there we have the setup for the story, following the slow and painful progress of Eliza as she studies not just linguistics, but lifestyle transformation, under the tutelage of Higgins.

The two principal leads in this production - Lauren Lee Innis-Youren as Eliza and Ash Cooper as Higgins - gave strong performances and have been well cast in their roles. Innis-Youren originally trained as a dancer, but has since become a seasoned performer in stage musicals, writer of cabaret shows, and teacher of music theatre and singing. Her performance as Eliza was a delight. It's a challenging role to perfect, due to the significant transformation from 'street' to 'polished' Eliza, but Innis-Youren managed this with aplomb. I couldn't fault her performance; I particularly enjoyed her sweet yet versatile singing voice.

My Fair Lady presented by GSOV - Review
Eliza (Lauren Lee Innis-Youren) with Henry Higgins (Ash Cooper)

Ash Cooper as Higgins gave a convincing depiction of the somewhat gormless, or at the very least insensitive, Higgins. He managed to summon up a Higgins that was at once somewhat unlikeable, naive, cocky and confused. Cooper has a strong stage presence which is critical to the success of this role.

There are some significant support roles in My Fair Lady, particularly Kierin Murphy as Colonel Pickering, Ron Pidcock OAM as Eliza's father Alfred P. Doolittle, Daniel Felton as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Jennifer Wakefield as Mrs Higgins, and Nicky Wortley as Mrs Pearce. Each brought depth and nuance to their roles, and it was a testament to the pulling power of the GSOV that it could attract such a strong cast. Particular credit on the night to Daniel Felton, for his beautiful rendition of On the Street Where you Live, and to Jennifer Wakefield for her performance as the haughty, and later empathetic, Mrs Higgins.

My Fair Lady presented by GSOV - Review
Eliza with Mrs Higgins (Jennifer Wakefield)

I was most impressed with the costuming. As mentioned earlier, the scenes varied widely, and in each, the costumes perfectly captured the spirit of the era, with impeccable attention to detail. I greatly enjoyed the costuming in the race meeting scene, where the consistency and limited palette of the costumes provided strong visual appeal.

My Fair Lady presented by GSOV - Review
The ensemble of My Fair Lady - dressed in their finest for the races.

The music is, of course, one of the main draws of this show, and the GSOV orchestra does an excellent job of bringing the score to life. The classic songs are given new life on stage, and the choreography is nothing short of stunning; kudos here to Director/Choreographer Robert Ray.

Overall, GSOV's production of My Fair Lady is a delightful theatrical experience. The strong cast, catchy tunes and outstanding production values make this a must-see show for any lover of musical theatre.

I feel I need to include a gentle content warning, which in no way reflects on GSOV or the quality of this production. If you haven't seen My Fair Lady before, please keep in mind that Pygmalion, the play on which it is based, was written by George Bernard Shaw over 100 years ago. Henry Higgins' attitude to Eliza Doolittle, his lack of empathy for her plight as a displaced person and treatment of her as an 'experiment' may not 'pass the pub test' for some in this more enlightened era. If you're particularly sensitive to such issues, may I respectfully suggest this is not the show for you.

My Fair Lady plays at The Alexander Theatre (The Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts), 48 Exhibition Walk, Clayton until Sunday 2 April 2023.

The session times are:

Thursday 30 March: 7.30pm

Friday 31 March: 7.30pm

Saturday 1 April: 2.00pm

Saturday 1 April: 7.30pm

Sunday 2 April: 2.00pm

Tickets are:

Full price: $60

Concession: $54

Student: $48

Child (under 16): $30

Group: $36

Click here to purchase your tickets online.

The running time is approximately 3 hours (including one interval). The show is suitable for all ages (PG).

All images supplied. Photographer: Pinni Bibe

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Why? A sparkling major production of this much-loved stage musical.
When: Until 2 April 2023
Phone: (03) 9905 1111
Where: Alexander Theatre, The Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts, 48 Exhibition Walk, Clayton
Cost: $30 - $60
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