★★★★ “A new West End leading lady is born in this sumptuous new production ” – WestendTheatre.com
The top line:
Bartlett Sher gives London a sumptuous new production of this Broadway classic, that revels in the My Fair Lady cliches of Edwardian London seen through American eyes; but is also as fiercely intelligent as Eliza proves to be. A new West End leading lady is born in Amara Okereke’s performance as Eliza Doolittle.
The production and direction:
Bartlett Sher has brought his smash-hit Broadway revival of My Fair Lady to the London Coliseum, playing until 27 August 2022. Sher has gone back to both George Bernhard Shaw’s original play “Pygmalion,” on which My Fair Lady is based, and 1913 screenplay of Pygmalion, to make some small, but pretty significant additions to the book of the show. This, combined with his staging, proves pretty transformative – particularly at the end of the show when Eliza usually swoons into Henry Higgins’ arms.
The West End has a new leading lady, and we don’t say that lightly given the breadth of talent currently on stage in London. Every few years someone extraordinary gets given the role of a lifetime, and another star is born! That star is Amara Okereke in the title role of Eliza Dolittle.
She is everything you want Eliza to be, vulnerable, funny, charming, frightened, but with so much more than you usually see, not least Eliza as a hero of the story rather than a down trodden puppet manipulated by Higgins. What’s more she sings the part beautifully, with a trembling grit in the flower girl scenes, to a joyous awakening in I Could Have Danced All Night, to a powerful, confident Show Me and I Could Have Danced All Night reprise in Act II.
Harry Hadden-Paton is a slick Henry Higgins, as he revives his Broadway performance, which earned him a Tony nomination. What’s more he is as believable and rounded a character as we’ve ever seen of Higgins, which is no small praise.
Vanessa Redgrave as Higgins’ mother, is a much needed star name in this big production, but she looks unsteady on her feet (which is one way to add onstage tension).
In terms of the other leads, Malcolm Sinclair given a lovely performance as Colonel Pickering, but Stephen K Amos feels miscast as Alfred P Doolittle, lacking the easy comic charm to carry off Eliza’s wayward, chancer of a father. Sharif Afifi as Eliza’s suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill sings beautifully and breaths new life, particularly some quirky comedy, into this usually dull part.
The Coliseum stage is vast, and as a working opera house means the orchestra pit places the stage even further away from the audience. Michael Yeargan’s sets manage to bring the action closer to the audience, especially in Henry Higgins’ home, which capitalises on the Coliseum revolve to slickly present a series of spaces. His study, the main set of the show, is strangely cramped and claustrophobic, which is maybe a design choice, maybe a budget limitation for this short-run production.
Catherine Zuber’s costumes are glamorous, beautiful and everything you need them to be.
The show has never sounded better, with Robert Russell Bennett’s musical arrangements and Gareth Valentine’s musical direction ravishing Frederick Loewe’s glorious score – surely one of the great musicals score of all time.
My Fair Lady is booking until 27 August 2022 at the London Coliseum.