Home Musical play My Fair Lady review – perfectly elegant, still calm | Theater

My Fair Lady review – perfectly elegant, still calm | Theater


Jhis garlanded production of the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical, fresh off Broadway, is the definition of a heartwarming evening at the theatre. It glides from one beloved song to the next against an elegantly twirling backdrop designed by Michael Yeargan.

Amara Okereke as Eliza Doolittle has a voice that fills the auditorium. It’s a treat to see Vanessa Redgrave as Henry Higgins’ mother – even if she’s gone in a heartbeat. Higgins (Harry Hadden-Paton) himself is a whimsical mix of several very English types, from Colin Firth to Doctor Who – slightly clumsy and not as patrician or haughty as Rex Harrison in the 1964 film.

But for those who’ve seen this screen classic, it’s hard to list the reasons to step out for this faithful revival rather than stay home with the film. Under the direction of Bartlett Sher, the lack of invention feels like a missed opportunity.

Kept in jelly… My Fair Lady. Photography: Marc Brenner

It’s carefully preserved in the aspic – a time capsule of good reassuring music, beautiful dresses and plenty of insults to women of a lower social order – Eliza is a “cabbage leaf” and “baggage” to crush if she is naughty. There are no clever here-and-now winks, twists, or hints, save for a weak English joke and a polished final scene that blew me away. puzzled and unconvinced.

Lerner and Loewe’s musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion sounds a lot like a heartwarming Christmas pageant. Sometimes he starts to look like pantomime in his overdrive and most definitely in Redgrave’s huge Ascot hat in the race day scene.

It’s solidly executed throughout but characterless and quiet. The funny moments — the turning point in Eliza’s elocution lessons and her trash dad’s (Stephen K Amos) disdain for her new middle-class life — never really catch fire.

Amara Okereke as Eliza Doolittle with My Fair Lady.
Amara Okereke as Eliza Doolittle with My Fair Lady. Photography: Marc Brenner

Okereke’s Eliza has a comically exaggerated gait: elbows outstretched, shoulders shrugged, stomping and screaming. We never see the softer, more vulnerable side of her character. Hadden-Paton, who starred in the original 2018 New York show, brings childlike charm to his role as the cocky linguistics expert who scrapes a flower vendor on the streets of London so he can turn her into duchess. His derisory comments on women and the working classes seem hopelessly outdated – what would he think of the Urban Dictionary? And would his committed celibacy in I’m An Ordinary Man make him an incel today? But his point about regional accents as a classifier of social status in Britain remains depressingly relevant to the assumptions we still make.

The chemistry between Higgins and Eliza never comes into play, and there’s no real hint of an awkward romance between them, even after Eliza sings I Could Have Danced All Night. They’re better at playing mutual animosity, though there’s growling screeches rather than anything more subtle.

It’s easy to see why this show was such a hit on Broadway, with its exportable vision of a bygone Britain filled with top hats, vintage lampposts and oak-panelled rooms. Could this Disneyified Englishness be simply built to win the hearts and wallets of West End tourists or is that too cynical?