My Fair Lady,  The Lincoln Centre Theatre Production,  Birmingham Hippodrome, 8 to 19 March 2023 then touring.  5****, David Gray & Paul Gray

From its first performance, My Fair Lady has been a cast iron hit, blessed as it is with a wonderfully memorable score, elegant dialogue, an engaging plot, and sparkling song lyrics.

This glittering production of Learner & Loewe’s masterpiece plays to all these considerable strengths.  The main set is a lavishly detailed representation of three rooms and a courtyard in Professor Higgins’ house, mounted on a rotating stage.  The action moves through the house as it rotates, creating an impression of almost cinematic fluidity.  The costumes are similarly detailed and, in the Ballroom and Ascot scenes, exquisitely stylish.

The singing is gorgeous, lyrical, and well-articulated.  There is no trace of “anything-you-can-sing-I-can-sing-louder” belting here!  Just well-supported, well-blended head voice production complementing the sweeping melodic lines of the score.  And it is not just the main characters who demonstrate this; the ensemble singing is also tight, superbly characterised, the choruses operatic and the dance routines stunning. There is not a single weak or lesser link here; all of the performers are true equals, and, frankly, SENSATIONAL!

The choreography is energetic and slick, culminating in a gloriously gaudy and bawdy version of Get me to the Church on Time which hints that, when it comes to his pleasures, Mr. Doolittle might have unexpectedly broad tastes.

All of the above is to be expected from a high-end production of a hit Broadway show.  Where this production moves to another level is in the depth and detail of characterisation.  This applies to the whole cast.  The ensemble, all of whom play a variety of roles, is never less than 100% committed and engaged in the action, giving us compelling snapshots of the characters they briefly inhabit. 

The supporting parts are all well thought through and delivered with similar conviction and truth.  Adam Woodyatt is a revelation as Alfred Doolittle, playing the role of the moral contrarian with a breezy playfulness.  Woodyatt makes it his own.  Understudy, Rebekah Lowings, shines as Eliza, perfectly capturing and physicalising the transformation from a downtrodden flower girl to a self-possessed woman of strength and determination.

The towering performance of the evening, however, belongs to Michael D. Xavier as the curmudgeonly Professor Higgins.  This is a rich and nuanced reading; by turns, hilariously funny, brutal, and vulnerable.  He plays with the audience, making us like him and dislike him at will from one moment to the next.  To its credit, the production never shies away from the character’s misogyny, confronting the audience with it and inviting us to be shocked by it. And it is very shocking: and very timely for the ever-increasing marginalisation we see in our modern-day society.

At the end, the show goes back to its source material, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, by providing an unsettlingly ambiguous conclusion.  Higgins is not rewarded for his terrible attitudes and dreadful treatment of Eliza.  Thus, ironically, by returning to its early 20th-century roots, this show gives us a My Fair Lady for the 21st Century.

Cast Professor Henry Higgins – Michael D. Xavier, Eliza Doolittle  – Rebekah Lowings, Alfred P Doolittle – Adam Woodyatt, Mrs. Higgins – Heather Jackson, Colonel Pickering – John Middleton, Mrs. Pearce – Lesley Garrett, Freddy Eynsford Hill – Tom Liggins, Mrs. Higgins – Heather Jackson, Zoltan Karpathy – Carl Patrick

Creatives Book & Lyrics – Alan J Lerner, Music – Frederick Loewe, Director – Bartlett Sher, Choreographer – Christopher Gattelli, Sets – Michael Yeargan, Costumes – Catherine Zuber, Musical Director – Alex Parker

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