Left – Anna O’Byrne and Charles Edwards. Photo – Brian Geach. Cover – Anna O’Byrne. Photo – Jeff Busby
Typically, major musical productions feel unfinished or imprecise. While a mainstay of the cultural calendar (and, for many audience members, their only form of major cultural engagement in a given year), they're rarely comprehensively crafted endeavours. Usually, a production's nostalgia factor or star-power carries middling writing or lacking set design.
If ever there was a production that could have coasted on such nostalgia and star-power, it would be the latest iteration of My Fair Lady. Directed by musical theatre royalty (Julie Andrews) and celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of one of the form's most beloved shows, it would have been less than surprising if the actual production turned out to be less than stellar.
But, honestly? It's absolutely magical. Truly – the best example of all the joy, delight and emotion that can come with a genuinely crafted and massive musical theatre production.
The aesthetic elements are all fantastic, even considering the expectations one has for this sort of spectacle. The costumes and sets are both beautiful, sophisticated and creative. It's a delight seeing how the production team have blended beautifully painted backdrops and concrete sets to create a true sense of scale in a myriad of environments. The costumes feel lived-in, genuine and lovely.
But, it's the performances and direction that really make the work fly. Anna O'Byrne does incredible work as Eliza Doolittle. Her accent work, her vocal gymnastics, her emotional arc and her comedic timing are simply exquisite. And, she's ably matched by an equally talented cast at every turn – from Charles Edwards as Professor Higgins to Reg Livermore as Alfred Doolittle.
And, for a lengthy show, it flows beautifully. The writing of My Fair Lady is rhythmic and challenging. In a simpler work, the story would end with Eliza Doolittle making her debut in the upper-class. Instead, you have a gritty second-half where characters need to figure out what Eliza's change really means for her (and her supposed benefactors).
It's a vital part of the work but lesser directors often fumble the pacing and emotion of that second-half. Not so, Julie Andrews. She handles it exquisitely. And, honestly, between everything else the production nails, you're really left wondering why Andrews isn't in charge of directing more major works.
Opera Australia and John Frost present
My Fair Lady
Lerner and Loewe
Directed by Julie Andrews
Venue: Capitol Theatre, Sydney NSW
Dates: until October 2017
Tickets: From $59.90