Sunday, October 8, 2017

My Fair Lady

Opera Australia and John Frost with Elizabeth Williams, Benjamin Lowy and Adrian Salpeter, Jeanne Arnold, Beckett Swede, Just For laughs Theatricals and Glass Half Full Productions, present MY FAIR LADY. Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe. Adapted from George Bernard Shaw's Play and Gabriel Pascal's motion picture 'PYGMALION'. At the Capitol Theatre, Campbell St, Haymarket, Sydney. 27 August - 14 October.

I recently read DAZZLER, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOSS HART, a biography by Steven Bach (2001). It was an intriguing and subsequently, easy and enjoyable read giving one a look into the career (and personal life) of Moss Hart. It was especially interesting following the unfolding of the plays and productions that this man was part of. Moss Hart was the original Director of My Fair Lady that had its World Premiere on the 15th March, 1956 on Broadway in the Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York. It was he who guided Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in their famous incarnations as Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in the Oliver Smith Set Designs and Cecil Beaton Costumes.

Opera Australia with Gordon Frost 'lured' Julie Andrews to Direct a Diamond Jubliee, 60th Anniversary Production of MY FAIR LADY for Australian audiences. I had never seen MY FAIR LADY on stage (the film many times, of course) and thought it would be a very interesting production to see, particularly with the chapter from Mr Bach's book concerning that original incarnation sitting so alive in my head, and knowing the intense memory knowledge that Julie Andrews could probably bring to the staging of the work.

The look of the production is 'gorgeous' to behold. The Set Designs and Costumes rich in the conceits of their time with a contemporary Lighting Design, by Richard Pilbrow, based on the plans and methods of Abe Feder, the original Lighting Designer, is luxuriously ravishing. Mr Pilbrow relighted the show (I quote) "…as if Abe Feder were to be with us at the production desk in 2016. Employing his principles that of course recognised the exquisite, subtly coloured Smith sets and Beaton Costumes, but employing - as he would have done - today's technology. [...] Hopefully our very modern lighting, 'inspired' by the great Abe Feder, will once again help bring MY FAIR LADY to glorious life.' - it does. It is one of the many pleasures of the production. (The only odd modern decision was not to change the painted back-drop setting for the two songs: "On the Street Where You Live", in Act One and "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face" in Act Two - it looked definitely archaic! and WAS distracting to the opportunities for both those important songs.)

Charles Edwards, a guest artist from the United Kingdom, is a wonderful Higgins, with a comfortable ownership of all he does. His performance seemed to be an 'existence' on stage with all the nuance of the lyrics and music of Lerner and Loewe, and consummate skill with what is left in the musical's book of the Shaw text - PYGMALION - expertly communicated.

Anna O'Bryne, has had the great comfort and, probably, great challenge of creating Eliza Doolittle under the tutelage of the original. It is beautifully sung and the arc of Eliza's transformation is drawn clearly, although there are some dramatic insecurities, especially in the latter confrontations of the work, that just pulled one (I am talking for myself) out of a whole hearted emotional identification (Ms O'Bryne appeared and Eliza shrunk) - it became a little overwrought.

Around these two principals, have been gathered a call sheet of some remarkable vintage Australian talent, playing to their strengths with comfortable margins to spare: Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins; Tony Llewellyn-Jones as 'fussy' Colonel Pickering; Deidre Rubinstein as Mrs Pearce and a glorious performance from the redoubtable and theatrically energetic 'charmer', Reg Livermore as Alfred P. Doolittle.

The discipline of the Ensemble on stage is steadily remarkable (Choreography by Christopher Gattelli), as is the sound from the orchestra led by Laura Tipoki.

All in all a very pleasant night in the theatre - nostalgic, rich in familiar song and secure in performance. We have much to thank Mosss Hart - the Dazzler, for. And, of course Julie Andrews!

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