Last September, the Julie Andrews-directed production of My Fair Lady, recreating the show as it was on Broadway in 1956, opened at the Sydney Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theatre. The production received an overwhelmingly positive response from audiences and, in its limited season, sold more tickets than any other production in the history of the Sydney Opera House.
So, following successful seasons in Brisbane and Melbourne, it’s unsurprising that My Fair Lady has returned to Sydney for a victory lap, this time playing at the Capitol Theatre. Most of the principal actors from the prior Sydney engagement have reprised their roles, with two exceptions: English actor Charles Edwards is now playing Professor Higgins and Joel Parnis has taken on the role of Freddy Eynsford-Hill.
It’s very pleasing to be able to report that My Fair Lady is every bit as impressive in its Sydney encore as it was last year (my original review can be found here). The story of the phonetics professor, who sets out to transform a flower girl into a ‘respectable’ woman capable of passing as a duchess, will shock with the sexism and classism it reveals as rampant in Edwardian England, but its timeless aspects will leave the lasting impression. Lerner and Loewe’s score is delightful to revisit, particularly given the full bodied sound created by the first-class orchestra led by Guy Simpson. As was my experience last year, the performance of the overture on its own is immensely satisfying.
The show’s design elements, based on the original work of the late Oliver Smith (set designer) and Cecil Beaton (costume designer), are just as striking upon second glance. Moments such as ‘Ascot Gavotte’ and the lights rising on the embassy ballroom prompted their own audience applause on opening night, based simply on the stunning visuals. It’s a truly spectacular rendering of the world occupied by the upper class of the day. And, of course, Christopher Gattelli’s choreography is wonderful, his work on ‘Get me to the church on time’ specifically is tremendous.
But at the heart of the show – and its greatest asset – is its superb cast. As Eliza Doolittle, Anna O’Byrne returns to Sydney to remind us of why she was so deserving of the Helpmann Award she received for this role a month ago. Her pure soprano voice has considerable range, and her transformation from cockney flower girl to a so-called ‘respectable’ lady is beautifully realised. As her intelligent but dreadfully arrogant and misogynistic tutor, Edwards comfortably inhabits the part. He’s convincing as the man so enamoured of himself that he’s incapable of seeing how much those around him can offer – even when it’s in front of his face.
As Colonel Pickering, Tony Llewellyn-Jones is every bit as strong the second time around, Robyn Nevin remains a scene-stealer as Mrs Higgins, and Reg Livermore’s Alfred P. Doolittle is as vital and spirited as you could imagine. And as the unashamedly swooning young man infatuated with Eliza, Parnis proves himself a good fit for the role of Freddy. His tenor vocals make the iconic ‘On the street where you live’ memorable.
While some of the societal values and attitudes to which the characters in My Fair Lady subscribe have no place in the contemporary world, there are underlying messages still to be taken from the piece, not least the importance of not judging a book by its cover and the meaninglessness of having the ability to mind your Ps and Qs when your character is otherwise so fundamentally flawed. Even so, My Fair Lady occupies an important place in the history of musical theatre and Andrews’ faithful recreation of the original Broadway production is a thoroughly entertaining journey back in time. If you missed this on its first Sydney outing, be sure to catch it this time around.
MY FAIR LADY – SYDNEY SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Capitol Theatre
Season: Playing now until October
Performances: Wed–Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Tues & Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
Price: From $59.90 *
Tickets on sale: On Sale Now
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au OR myfairladymusical.com.au
* $59.90 price point are available for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evening performances . Subject to capacity. A Ticketmaster fee of $8.35 per transaction applies. Selected ticket delivery methods may incur an additional charge.