The opening night of My Fair Lady at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre delivered a highly entertaining and lavish history lesson.
The show features the sets and costume from the original Broadway show, which opened 60 years ago. As such there’s the chance to see what Broadway musicals of the 1950s looked and sounded like – that is before all the special effects of the today.
History is also on show in terms of the story-line. My Fair Lady is the stage adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play, Pygmalion, where a phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, sets out to transform a young Cockney flower seller, Eliza Doolittle into a `lady’ to win a bet. His attitude and treatment towards her would be regarded as totally unacceptable in today’s society. The ending also raises a number of questions in this era of women’s independence and equality.
There’s also plenty of history when it comes to the show’s producer – Julie Andrews. She starred as the first Eliza Doolittle on Broadway all those years ago.
According to the current day stars of this Opera Australia/John Frost production, Andrews is wonderful to work with, understanding the challenges facing the actors. She’s a great mentor and she’s a perfectionist. That perfectionism was clearly evident on opening night. All the cast were wonderful, led by Anna O’Byrne as Eliza and Charles Edwards as Professor Higgins.
O’Bryne’s acting and singing were impeccable. Her performance brilliantly highlighted the range of emotions Eliza experiences as she transforms from a cockney girl to a sophisticated woman. She was equally at ease with comic moments, such as the very funny Ascot racing scene, as she was with the more emotionally challenging parts of the musical, such as her future once she became `a lady’. She expertly sang the very demanding musical score which required her to sing a great range of songs with a cockney accent and then the `Queen’s English’.
O’Byrne had a great rapport with English actor Charles Edwards who joined the cast in Melbourne (Alex Jennings played the role in Sydney and Brisbane). His Higgins was arrogant but there was also a charm about him. You felt his unacceptable behaviour was due to ignorance more than anything else and that at times he was rather confused by more than dismissive of the women in his life.
Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins showed why she is regarded as one of Australia’s best stage actresses while Tony Llewellyn-Jones as Colonel Pickering and Deidre Rubenstien as Mrs Pearce also seemed perfectly cast.
Some of the biggest cheers on opening night came for Reg Livermore’s portrayal of Alfred P. Doolittle. He showed both his acting and vaudevillian skills in such numbers as With a Little Bit of Luck and Get Me To The Church On Time.
Supporting the leads were a wonderful ensemble who sang and danced up a storm. They looked wonderful in the 1950s designed costumes, some of which were truly sumptuous. The sets were equally stunning (and very clever) with the Ascot racing and ballroom scenes standouts.
The orchestra expertly supported the many songs My Fair Lady is renowned for.
It’s this mixture of magical music, wonderful sets, stunning costumes and fantastic acting which has seen My Fair Lady play to near sell-out crowds in Sydney and Brisbane. The Melbourne season should be just as popular.
My Fair Lady is playing at the Regent Theatre until July 29. It then returns to Sydney in August. Visit the My Fair Lady website for tickets and more information.
Photo credit: Jeff Busby
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