Wales Millenium Centre, Cardiff
Music by Frederick Loewe
Lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner
Directed by Bartlett Sher
It is rare that a West End production improves on the road, but so it is with Bartlett Sher’s My Fair Lady, touring the UK and Ireland after a short summer residency at London’s Coliseum.
The show, now with Michael Xavier and Charlotte Kennedy playing Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, is a sensational take on the Broadway classic. The two leads fizz with a chemistry that fills the Millenium Centre, their complicated relationship evolving before our eyes. Michael Xavier is one of the country’s finest leading men of his generation and, aside from his top-notch vocal delivery he cracks the complex emotional dysfunctionality of Lerner and Loewe’s Professor.
Kennedy’s Eliza however is the show’s revelation. Not just in her stunning vocal presence, but in how she inhabits every song. Her transformation from cockney Covent Garden flower-girl to powerfully spoken young woman is mesmerising. Wouldn’t It Be Loverly and I Could Have Danced All Night are long recognised as Eliza’s highlights – here however, not just smashing those all time favourites out of the park, Kennedy grasps the second act cracker of Show Me, transforming it into a fusion of rage, frustration and passion rarely seen on stage. Kennedy’s elegance and presence is equally astonishing, with her entrance just before the interval bejewelled and ballgowned (take a bow costume designer Catherine Zuber) ready for the Embassy Ball, proving literally breathtaking. There is more than a hint of Audrey Hepburn to this Eliza.
Adam Woodyatt makes the delightful transition from Albert Square to Lisson Grove as he takes on the role of Alfred P. Doolittle. Albeit a supporting role, Eliza’s father is a larger than life caricature of London’s working class and it takes a performer of massive character to play the role to its full, with Woodyatt a delight in both voice and persona. John Middleton’s Colonel Pickering makes for a faultless foil to Higgins, while Annie Wensak, stepping up to cover the part of Mrs Pearce on the night of this review is another treat. Tom Liggins as Freddie Eynsford-Hill gives an excellent performance of On The Street Where You Live that only adds to the evening’s delights.
The set design is ingenious, with Michael Yeargan’s scenery working well for a touring production. Londoners – who are often spoilt for cultural choice – have missed out on a local chance to catch this cast. Now touring the regions until April next year, Bartlett Sher’s My Fair Lady is, at last, unmissable musical theatre.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner