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My Fair Lady at Lyric Theatre, Brisbane

My Fair Lady's Julie Andrews in Brisbane. Picture: Peter Wallis
My Fair Lady’s Julie Andrews in Brisbane. Picture: Peter Wallis

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March 20, 2017 11:27am

 

I’m the guy who is usually looking at his watch when things go on and on but in this case I went the distance without glancing at it.

The genius of this Opera Australia and John Frost production is that it replicates the original 1956 production “down to the last sequin”. Cecil Beaton’s costume design was quite something and it still is.

This production looks stunning and the Ascot race sequence is one of the most amazing visual tableaus you will ever see on a stage. Spontaneous applause broke out as it was revealed and there were gasps of delight.

WHEN something is three and a quarter hours long it had better be good. Thank God My Fair Lady is a triumph

The set, a replica of Tony winner Oliver Smith’s original design, was amazing too. This production looks fabulous and it moves from scene to scene seamlessly.

It was special that Dame Julie Andrews, who played Eliza Doolittle in the Broadway original (it was the role that made her famous) was there Sunday night for the gala opening and it must have been spooky for her whenever Ann O’Byrne, the current Eliza, sang because O’Byrne sings like Dame Julie and she even looks a bit like her.

You could tweak this Lerner and Loewe classic to update it but that would spoil it. It was a wise decision to go back to the original with all its political incorrectness. A few people baulked at that but it is making a point about chauvinism and class after all.

My Fair Lady is more than three hours long but reviewer Phil Brown says the time is more than worth it. Picture: Peter Wallis

Anna O’Byrne is simply gorgeous as Eliza Doolittle and British actor Charles Edwards is perfect as phoneticist Professor Henry Higgins, the bloke who trains Eliza to speaks proper and act like a lady.

Some have suggested he is a Rex Harrison (the original Higgins) surrogate but Edwards is very much his own man and, unlike Harrison he didn’t lock himself in his dressing room and threaten not to go on. At least I don’t think he did.

His performance is warm, witty and hilarious at times, and frankly he made the show for me.

Robyn Nevin is also excellent as his mother and Tony Llewellyn-Jones is great as Colonel Pickering. The audience loved Reg Livermore as the shambolic Alfred P. Doolittle and Mark Vincent, Freddy, does the most moving version of On The Street Where You Live.

One of the things I like about this musical is that it’s like a play with music, based, as it is, on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, first staged in 1913.

It helps that there’s a strong narrative and a good story. And there are great songs that people of a certain age will know as part of the soundtrack of their life … Get Me to the Church on Time, Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, I Could Have Danced All Night … these are all classics. And I know the words. Scary.

While this is a heritage production it’s no museum exhibit. It feels fresh, it looks brand new and despite some dated themes it still resonates. It is long but you won’t really notice. Unless you have a weak bladder.

MY FAIR LADY

Lyric Theatre, QPAC until April 30

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