Left – Anna O’Byrne and Charles Edwards. Photo – Brian Geach. Cover – Anna O’Byrne. Photo – Jeff Busby
Sixty years! My Fair Lady – happy anniversary! So much can happen in sixty years, a monumental block of time, and when reflected through a theatrical performance, you can feel, hear and see the ticking of the clock. Depending on how a show is conceived, contrived and performed, theatre has the capacity to show an audience what is happening now, then, and what could happen in the future. George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion champions the entrepreneurial Gabriel Pascal, lending Shaw’s written masterpiece a voice on stage and screen; Pascal, “who had the idea of turning the play into a musical” and the rest is history... or is it?
Opera Australia and John Frost have put ‘their heads’ together, recreating My Fair Lady “in all the majestic glory of the 1956 original”, contacting Dame Julie Andrews (the original Eliza Doolittle when Dame Julie was a fledgling) to direct this production, “securing the last remaining strand of DNA from the original production” and what a mighty job she ‘has of it’, too, bringing this “perfect musical to a new generation of theatre practitioners; new generation of theatre audiences”.
Opening night at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane, and the audience filters through the doors in all their finery. The dress code is ‘black tie’ and like a dress-up party in your own home, the audience reflect their total enthusiasm for this production from the onset, a mood that will flow on throughout the entire performance, as the audience ‘oohhd’ and ‘aaahhd’ at every possible juncture. We were primed. Enter Dame Julie Andrews, seated with the mainstream, and the audience already clapping wildly. Air of anticipation whipped up when the brilliant (seamless, baton-in-glove with performers, never-miss-a-beat) orchestra ‘overture’ us into rapture, giving the audience a taste-plate of what is to come. The music most of us grew up with – well, I know I did, as I could sing most of the words to most of the songs. How did that happen?
Opening scene, Flower Market, introduces the audience to the characters, the brilliant set-designs, the awesome costumes, choreography, lighting and palpable music (Frederick Loewe, maestro) that will wow us throughout the entire show. Wordage is king (and queen for the feminists among us) but this was no feminist era. Having said that, what are these comments seeping through? A contemporary look at times gone by and times ahead of us. The magic of theatre can do that – show us ourselves in the mirror, and ask, ‘do you like what you see’? Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner are so wickedly insulting and putridly denigrating to all womankind, Trump would be impressed.
“He ain’t a copper, just look at his boots” – Professor Higgins (Charles Edwards, masterful performance, we ‘hated’ you at all the right moments) has been spotted; Colonel Pickering (Tony Llewellyn-Jones, we love you) bumps him and the snappy repartee explodes. Prof Higgins points out Eliza Doolittle (Anna O’Byrne, rare jewel with the voice of an angel) as a ‘prisoner of the gutters, cold blooded murderer of the English language’ and quips “... in Australia, they haven’t used it in years.” Audience screeches. Alfred P Doolittle (Reg Livermore, I remember him in suspenders, high heels and fishnet tights, Reg, you’ve still got it) needs “liquid protection” to return to his missus. The street scene magically morphs into the Professor’s sumptuous home (one of so many seamless and gorgeous set changes, take a bow, Oliver Smith). Mr Doolittle fronts up for some graft, being asked, “have you no morals, sir?” and his rhetort, “No, I can’t afford them”.
Commanding performance from Eliza, evolving from “Just You Wait”, through “The Rain in Spain” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” was something to experience. The Embassy Ball, The Embassy Waltz, The Ascot Gavotte with Cecil Beaton’s costumes recreated by John David Ridge (why reinvent perfection?) and choreography (Christopher Gattelli) that left the audience gasping for breath. Robyn Nevin, as Mrs Higgins, so perfect for the part; the audience applauded every nuance of her being. Mark Vincent, as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, singing “On the Street Where You Live”, was another show stopper.
What a theatrical ride: in a show of this magnitude and grandeur, it is hard to single out all the characters and regale them, nor can I retell in any way, shape or form, the sequence of events and magical show tunes, without gushing or going over-the-top. My Fair Lady, sixty years on and still wowing the audience, young and old alike, and the only way to review this show is TO GO AND SEE IT FOR YOURSELF! I am still singing...
Opera Australia and John Frost present
My Fair Lady
Lerner & Loewe
Director Julie Andrews
Venue: QPAC Lyric Theatre, Brisbane
Dates: from March 14, 2017
Tickets: from $69.90