Last Updated on 18th May 2022
Douglas Mayo reviews Lerner & Loewe’s classic musical My Fair Lady in a production from Lincoln Center New York directed by Bartlett Sher at the London Coliseum.
My Fair Lady
I’ve been enamoured with My Fair Lady since hearing the Original Broadway Cast Album. Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion for me is about as close as you can come to the perfect construct. With this new revival imported from New York’s Lincoln Centre I found myself more affected than with previous revivals thanks to Gareth Valentine and the talented artists that make up the gorgeous 36-piece orchestra (The biggest currently in the West End) in the Coliseum pit. You forget how much depth the orchestrations of masters such as Robert Russell Bennet and Philip J Lang give a show like My Fair Lady but it is immeasurable and is on show here in all its glory.
The word I keep using for this revival is lush. Michael Yeargen’s sets and Catherine Zuber’s costumes look gorgeous and are lit to perfection by Donald Holder. The central setting of Henry Higgin’s home and study is constantly changing and evolving providing an environment in which the evolution of Eliza is framed and her interactions with Higgins and Pickering occur. Keep an eye on all the happenings here of which there are many!
Harry Hadden-Paton’s Higgins is perhaps more petulant than earlier interpretations but it works, nevermore so than in some delicious encounters with Mrs Higgins (his mother) played to perfection by national treasure Vanessa Redgrave. His banter and camaraderie with Pickering spur on some wonderful comic moments throughout the show, but let’s face it these two are about as clueless as it gets when it comes to the wider world. Hadden-Paton’s Higgins comes into his own dramatically with his I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face, which for me is probably the most dramatically satisfying performances I’ve seen live of this wonderful number. Malcolm Sinclair is the perfect foil to Hadden-Paton whilst at the same time remaining Eliza’s protector against the extremes of Higgins and his bombastic nature.
Amara Okereke’s Eliza was just beautiful. A magical vocal, dramatic flair and great comic timing that made her more than a match for Higgin’s self-imagined superiority. I Could Have Danced All Night was a gold-plated showstopper and had me on the edge of my seat throughout. Many think that it is Higgins who is the puppet master for Eliza’s transformation, Sher’s production makes it clear and reminds us that it is Eliza who upon hearing Higgin’s boast outside Covent Gaden turns up the following morning at his house seeking lessons to better herself. Sher tries to take this a step further which a variation to the ending of the show, but ultimately I found the ending unsatisfying. I’ll be interested to hear what others made of it.
Stephen K Amos makes for a tremendous Alfred P Doolittle, With A Little Bit Of Luck and I’m Getting Married In The Morning were pure joy, although I found the incursion of Can-Can dancers into the latter number choreographed by Christoper Gattelli jarring.
This revival is as ravishing and splendid as you could ever want from My Fair Lady. I will certainly be buying a ticket to take in its wonders again (and again).