Robert Tanitch reviews My Fair Lady at the London Coliseum

my beautiful lady premiered in New York in 1956 and in London in 1958; and then there was the 1964 George Cukor film.

60 years later it’s amazing how time hasn’t erased the memories of Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Stanley Holloway and the costumes of Cecil Beaton, especially the black and white Ascot scene.

The main difference between Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalionand Frederick Lowe and Allan Jay Lerner’s clever musical adaptation is that the musical has a romantic ending.

Shaw didn’t want a happy ending. He had never approved of the romantic way the original actors (Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Mrs Patrick Campbell) had carried on in 1913.

Henry Higgins, professor of phonetics, die-hard old bachelor, selfish, arrogant, stubborn, accepts the challenge of turning Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, into a duchess.

Shaw describes Higgins as “a very boisterous baby,” and so Harry Hadden Paton plays him, immature, childishly rude and seemingly afraid of women, constantly running away and speaking too softly for a theater the size of the London Coliseum.

Higgins completely disregards people’s feelings and doesn’t think for a moment about what will happen to Eliza when the experiment is over. The big surprise, so amazing transformation, is how serious he gets when he talks/sings about adjusting to Eliza’s face.

Amara Okereke’s Eliza, the first Black Eliza, roars too much in the opening scene at Covent Garden and the entrance is initially too broad; but it becomes more subtle as the story progresses. I could have danced all night stops the show and she has a touching scene when Higgins takes all the credit for her success at the prom and doesn’t give her any.

Bartlett Sher’s production, lavishly costumed by Catherine Zuber, is faithful to Shaw, and Eliza is a step up from Nora in Ibsen’s production dollhouse. She’s not just leaving Higgins; She steps past the arch and out of the play into the auditorium and up a corridor and through the exit door out of the theatre. The last picture of Higgins is him, all alone, devastated.

Sharif Afifi is Freddie who falls in love with Eliza and sings with all his heart On the street where you live. Stephen K. Amos, who was cast as Eliza’s garbage man father, has two concert hall numbers. The second, Take me to church on timeShe feels totally wrong and becomes ridiculous when she introduces boys dressed as can-can girls in women’s clothing.

An important and delightful feature of Sher’s revival, and a major part of its appeal, along with all the well-known songs, is Michel Yeargan’s ever-changing and rotating sets, staged very efficiently in front of the audience.

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Robert Tanitch reviews My Fair Lady at the London Coliseum

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