It’s a recreation of the original Broadway production and it’s under the direction of that first production’s leading lady, an actress whose astonishing seven-decade career has seen her become one of the world’s most revered performers of the stage and screen.
On Tuesday evening, Opera Australia and John Frost will officially open My Fair Lady, directed by Julie Andrews, at the Sydney Opera House. It’s a production that stars English actor and three-time Laurence Olivier Award-winner, Alex Jennings, as Henry Higgins, and Anna O’Byrne, best known to audiences for her portrayal of Christine Daaé in the 2011’s Love Never Dies, as Eliza Doolittle.
Performing alongside Jennings and O’Byrne are Reg Livermore (as Alfred P. Doolittle), Robyn Nevin (as Mrs Higgins), Mark Vincent (as Freddy), Tony Llewellyn-Jones (as Colonel Pickering) and Deidre Rubenstein (as Mrs Pearce).
“[It’s been] years really in the making,” Livermore told Theatre People at a media event in Sydney last week.
“We may have only gotten together six weeks ago to actually bring life to it, but it’s been going on in people’s minds and offices for a long time.”
In fact, once the decision was made by producers to recreate the original 1956 Broadway production of My Fair Lady in its entirety, a process commenced that ultimately encompassed several years of research and trips to Wisconsin, New York City and Los Angeles, where it’s said that hours were spent trawling over drawings, costume and set designs. During the process, the Australian production team have met previous assistants of original costume designer, Cecil Beaton, and original set designer, Oliver Smith, who assisted in making a faithful recreation of the 1956 production a reality.
Livermore talked about how much he’s enjoyed the experience of working with Julie Andrews.
“I never thought that would happen to me in my life,” he said. “Honestly, if I’d woken up 28 years ago and someone said, ‘You just wait. You’re going to meet and work with and be directed by somebody you’d be quite surprised to encounter’, I wouldn’t have guessed it in a million years!
“She’s fabulous. She is such a nice person, such a decent, generous, sensitive [person]. She’s not a ranting or raving director. She sits there quite calmly all day long; she’s right across the script, right across the music, right across everything.”
Livermore also spoke about being cast in the role of Alfred P. Doolittle.
“I don’t know how often I’d ever thought about doing it. I was asked to do it a long time ago, but I thought I wasn’t old enough. I was probably old enough, but I was just too vain to do it!
He added, “I realise now… I am a character actor, basically. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done. That’s what I am. I’m a character actor. This is the ideal part for a character actor, and I’ve just thrown myself into it.”
And has it been challenging for Livermore to recreate the character with which audiences are so familiar, while also putting his own stamp on the role?
“I was very mindful of Julie knowing exactly what she wanted, and she was very clear that she wanted it to be ‘real’… so that it wasn’t just fanciful… and she was very explicit about certain points that had to be made,” Livermore told Theatre People.
But while this production of My Fair Lady recreates the look and feel of the show audiences were treated to on Broadway 60 years ago, Livermore indicated audiences certainly shouldn’t expect to see actors’ performances themselves replicated.
“This production is here, this is us, we are doing it. Australians are actually creating this,” Livermore said.
“All of us have been encouraged to offer ourselves and to bring what we can to the roles we’re playing, and that’s a rare event, as I see it, in the Australian theatre.
“So, we should be celebrating that, suddenly on this stage, with the help and the guidance of Dame Julie Andrews, all of these Australian people – plus our Englishman, Alex Jennings – are bringing themselves to the stage, and it’s wonderful.”
SYDNEY SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Season: Previews from August 30, 2016, Australian premiere September 6, 2016
Performance Times: Wed–Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Tues, Wed & Sat 1pm, Sun 3pm
Price: From $89.90
Bookings: myfairladymusical.com.au or 02 9318 8200, 02 9250 7777 or 1300 723 038
BRISBANE SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Lyric Theatre QPAC
Season: Previews from March 12, 2017, Opening Night March 15, 2017
TICKETS GO ON SALE: October
MELBOURNE SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Regent Theatre
Season: Previews from May 11, 2017, Opening Night May 16, 2017
TICKETS GO ON SALE: October