Freelance writer specialising in music, film, travel, sustainability and human rights. @Jas_Crittenden
Impeccable remake of the 1956 original
Reg Livermore as Alfred P. Doolittle and the My Fair Lady company. Image credit: Jeff Busby
When My Fair Lady, directed by Dame Julie Andrews, appeared at the Sydney Opera House in spring 2016, it sold more tickets than any show in the venue's history, a record previously set in 2014 by The King and I.
Anna O'Byrne as Eliza Doolittle and Charles Edwards as Henry Higgins. Image credit: Brian Geach.
This month, the production, which celebrates the musical's 60th anniversary, returns to Sydney, but to the Capitol Theatre. However, the shift in location is the only perceptible change. Just as at the Opera House, the show is a faithful remake of the original Broadway production, which premiered in 1956—right down to the parasols carried at the Ascot Races.
Anna O'Byrne as Eliza Doolittle. Image credit: Jeff Busby.
Given theatre's current obsession with modernisation, some might see Andrews' decision to return to the production in which she starred as anachronistic. However, the show's vitality proves its timelessness.
With charisma and excellent comic timing, Charles Edwards (Michael Gregson in Downton Abbey) tackles the role of Professor Henry Higgins, a pompous phoneticist who decides to prove he can transform Eliza Doolittle (Anna O'Byrne), a Cockney flower seller, into a lady, by teaching her to speak in an upper class accent. O'Byrne handles her character's shifts—both linguistically and emotionally—with highly impressive fluidity, conviction and a moving singing voice.
Reg Livermore as Alfred P. Doolittle. Image credit: Jeff Busby.
While their battle of wills and crackling chemistry form the play's backbone, the lesser characters add colour and insight. Deidre Rubenstein plays Mrs Pearce, Higgins' kind house keeper, with great majesty; Robyn Nevin is commanding as Mrs Higgins; Tony Llewellyn-Jones handles the role of Colonel Pickering with just the right amount of eccentricity; and Reg Livermore delivers a wonderfully physical interpretation of Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's roguish father.
The My Fair Lady company. Image credit: Jeff Busby.
Based on Cecil Beaton's designs for the original production, the costumes are detailed and luxurious: when the curtain opens on the Ascot Races, the crowd takes in an audible breath. The set, which is a double revolver, transports the audience seamlessly from the crowded London streets where Eliza first appears, to Higgins' beautiful home, given atmosphere through Richard Pilbrow's stunning lighting.
This flawless production is a reminder that not all classics need adapting to remain relevant, lively and entertaining.