This 1956 musical, based on the George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, with book and lyrics by Lerner and Loewe, is still a favourite of many theatre goers. The most recent Australian production was the 2008 Opera Australia production, which starred Reg Livermore as Higgins, Taryn Fiebig as Eliza, Robert Grubb as Alfred Doolittle and Judi Connelli as Mrs Pearce.
Congratulations must go to Nova for having a sell-out season with not one ticket spare before the show even opened. This is a rare but welcome case for any theatre company in this day and age. This time honoured favourite of common flower girl transformed into a Lady, all through the use of the English language still packs a punch.
Nova have done a great job in delivering a very solid production. Director, Noel Browne made good use of the stylish sets designed by Chris White. White has been designing sets for many years and this production is an example of why his skills are in great demand. Sound designer, Steve Hobbins made sure that the orchestra assembled by musical director, Tony Toppi could be heard loud and clear throughout the night. The sound was evenly balanced and every word that was sung and spoken was heard loud and clear. Stephanie Lumb’s costumes were delightful, especially the Ascot Races scene. Everyone in traditional black and white this really was a triumph. Michael Zagarn for the most part made sure this production was well lit. I’m sure Zagarn will be able to eliminate many of the unneeded black outs as the production continues in it’s run.
The weak link in this production was the choreography, unfortunately Wayne Robinson's unimaginative and under rehearsed dance steps left me feeling like a ‘squashed cabbage leaf’. It really doesn’t matter if your ensemble can move or not. Instead of trying, unsuccessfully, to get them to box steps, get them to form a series of tableaux’s representing the scene.
The cast was headed up with two of Melbourne’s most talented young people on the nonprofessional scene. Amy Larsen as Eliza Doolittle was, as Professor Higgins put it, magnificent! Larsen's portrayal of Eliza was one of the best, if not the best, I’ve seen. Her Cockney flower girl accent through to the polished lady was spot on in every aspect. A truly great performance. Larsen was equally matched with her leading man. I found out after the show, Mark Monroe had only four weeks to learn the enormous role of Professor Henry Higgins. Monroe gave us a non-apologetic Higgins who was so polished, I couldn’t believe he’d pulled it together in such a short amount of time. Well done!
Johnathon White's clear tenor voice was put to good use in the role of Freddy Eynsford-Hill. White has a clear understanding of his stage craft and was a joy to listen to. David Sly as Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle, had a few pitching issues but was otherwise convincing in his role. Peter Smitheram as Colonel Pickering was a good match for Monroe’s Higgins. ‘You did it’ was a great number, although I did notice it wasn’t the full version, which was disappointing. Higgins' loyal maid, Mrs Pearce was adequately played by Mandy Stevenson. Christie James portrayed Mrs Higgins with grace and flair. The ensemble worked well with what they were given, vocally sounding very strong in the ensemble numbers. I believe closer attention to accents could have lifted this show to another level.
My Fair Lady is playing at the Whitehorse Centre until Sunday May 18th