My Fair Lady

December 16, 2022 | By More

★★★★★   Simply Loverly

Playhouse: Wed 15 Dec 2022 – Sat 7 Jan 2023
Review by Martin Gray

Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical, My Fair Lady, warms hearts in a chilly Playhouse, where it is in residency into the New Year, with a sumptuous, but not soulless, production.

There’s no reinventing the wheel in this revival, it’s more a case of perfecting it. Every casting decision, every piece of staging serves the story and the songs. And such songs – I Could Have Danced All Night, Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, and so many more, are among the cleverest and catchiest ever written.

Charlotte Kennedy as Eliza Doolittle. Pic: Marc Brenner

As Henry Higgins, who bets new pal Colonel Pickering he can coach a Cockney flower girl so she can pass as a Duchess in six months, Michael D Xavier is superb. He bestrides the stage with the confidence of a colossus who truly believes other men are beneath him. In all things, he knows best.

Teaching him what he doesn’t know – how to treat people with basic humanity – is Charlotte Kennedy in a star-making performance as Eliza Doolittle. The journey from ordinary girl to debutante convinces; better still is how Kennedy conveys Eliza’s heartache as she realises she may be nothing more to Higgins than a puppet, something to be discarded at the end of the experiment.

Chemistry

Kennedy and Xavier are so good together in the moments of drama that it would be a treat to see them tackle George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, on which My Fair Lady is based.

Michael D. Xavier as Professor Henry Higgins, Charlotte Kennedy as Eliza Doolittle and John Middleton as Colonel Pickering. Pic: Marc Brenner

The chemistry between the well-matched leads is terrific, I could have watched all night, but there is so much more to enjoy.

Adam Woodyatt’s turn as Eliza’s dustman dad Alfred P Doolittle, whom Higgins sends on his own journey, is an eye-opener for anyone who assumes a chap who’s spent most of his adult life in EastEnders can’t have more strings to his bow. He has a ball leading With a Little Bit of Luck, while he fits into choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s staging of I’m Getting Married in the Morning, which combines can-can with cross dressing, like a man born to the Bacchanalia.

There’s another soap escapee in here, but you’d do well to recognise him, with John Middleton millions of miles from his long-running Emmerdale turn as local vicar Ashley Thomas. As Colonel Pickering, the more gentlemanly counterpoint to Higgin’s brusque bully, he’s spot on, with admirably musicality.

fine job

The biggest theatrical name in this production – originated in the US by acclaimed director Bartlett Sher – is Lesley Garrett. She does a fine job as housekeeper Mrs Pearce, but it does seem a shame to employ ‘Britain’s best-known soprano’ and have her handing out cups of tea and closing doors with her bustle. She does sing one line, beautifully.

Adam Woodyatt as Alfred P. Doolittle with Jenny Legg, Sinead Kenny and Dammi Aregbeshola. Pic: Marc Brenner

Tom Liggins similarly doesn’t have a huge amount of stage time, but his soaring vocals and puppyish presence serve Eliza’s admirer, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, wonderfully in the near-show stopping On the Street Where You Live.

Falkirk’s own Heather Jackson doesn’t get to sing, but she’s always welcome as Higgins’ wise, warm mother, who first meets Eliza at Ascot.

Ah yes, the Ascot race scene in which the newly refined Eliza shocks the gathered nobs when she cries to a horse, ‘Move yer bloomin’ arse’. Precision work by the superb singing ensemble and Marc Salzberg’s clever sound design – it really does feel as if the ‘horses, horses’ are galloping by – make for a memorable moment.

eye-popping

Equally impressive are the costumes – the elegance of Catherine Zuber’s outfits lets them sit alongside memories of Cecil Beaton’s iconic film counterparts, with Eliza’s massive titfer especially eye-popping.

Dominique Planter as Mrs Eynsford-Hill, Tom Liggins as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Michael D. Xavier as Professor Henry Higgins, Charlotte Kennedy as Eliza Doolittle, John Middleton as Colonel Pickering and Heather Jackson as Mrs. Higgins. Pic: Marc Brenner

While we’re talking production details, wait until you see designer Michael Yeargan’s main set – Henry Higgins’ home is gobsmackingly glorious, a giant doll’s house that uses the stage revolve to allow an angry Eliza to walk from room to room as she sweetly snarls Just You Wait.

The other backdrops also impress, from a cleverly angled Royal Opera House in Covent Garden to the tenements of Tottenham Court Road, speedily scene shifted by ensemble members to show Alfred’s ambling from there to Higgins house in Wimpole Street.

And always we have the gorgeous songs of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, orchestrated for this UK tour by Larry Blank and here in the baton-twirling hands of musical director Alex Parker.

filled with delights

The pitch perfect orchestra has the audience humming happily from the overture. Especially excellent is the musicians’ work on the joyous The Rain in Spain, and Show Me, one of those songs it’s easy to forget is coming, but once it arrives, you’re filled with delights.

My Fair Lady is in the capital over Christmas and the quality of this revival means Santa’s going to have to fill stockings with a sackful of superlatives. Don’t miss it.

Running time: Three hours (including one interval)
Playhouse, 18-22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Evenings Mon – Sat: 7.30pm (Not Sats 24 & 31 or Tue 23)
Mats: Mon 2, Tue 27 & 3, Weds 21 & 28, Thurs 15 & 29, Fri 23 & 30, all Sats at 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: book here.

Lesley Garrett as Mrs Pearce, Michael D. Xavier as Professor Henry Higgins and John Middleton as Colonel Pickering. Pic: Marc Brenner

ENDS

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