My Fair Lady has galloped into the London Coliseum this May, and it’s a bloomin’ loverly production. It’s the first major West End revival of the show for 21 years and comes to us via The Lincoln Center Theater and Broadway. It’s brilliantly directed by Bartlett Sher with rising star Amara Okereke as Eliza Doolittle and Harry Hadden-Paton (Downton Abbey) as Henry Higgins, a role he has reprised from his acclaimed stint on Broadway.
My Fair Lady is adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s witty play, Pygmalion, as well as Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture of the same name. It premiered on Broadway in March 1956, winning six Tony Awards including Best Musical. The production transferred to London in 1958 where it played in the West End for five and a half years. Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews starred in both productions. The 1964 classic film starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
In this 2022 production, the Coliseum stage is host to a spectacular cast of 32 whilst 36 musicians from the English National Opera’s orchestra play Frederick Loewe’s famous score down in the pit. The sparkling book and lyrics are by Alan Jay Lerner.
My Fair Lady tells the tale of Cockney girl Eliza Doolittle who is rescued from a life of selling flowers in Covent Garden and mispronouncing her H’s by phonetics professor and smarty-pants Henry Higgins. Eliza moves into 27a Wimpole Street in London’s chichi Marylebone, and together with assistance of linguist Colonel Pickering and housekeeper Mrs Pearce, she embarks on her transformative journey from down-and-out to the crème de la crème of London society. From Eliza’s grandiloquent “How do you do’s?” to the Embassy Ball where she is the talk of tout London in a dazzling ballgown with Cinderella-worthy scarlet cloak, the metamorphosis from Cockney street girl to duchess is complete.
The musical has all those hits you’ll recognise including I Could Have Danced All Night, Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? and The Rain in Spain, and Okereke in the female lead is an absolute delight. She makes this Eliza her own, a nod to Andrews and Hepburn but never a copycat. Hadden-Paton is a sensational Higgins, vexing and obnoxious in parts, charismatic and loveable in others. What a relief it is that Okereke and Hadden-Paton are closer in age than the Harrison-Andrews/Hepburn duo, a slightly creepy age difference which just wouldn’t do in the age of #metoo. And Vanessa Redgrave who plays Mrs Higgins, is just as you would expect from the grand dame of stage and screen – poised, intelligent and quite adorable.
It’s an enchanting, joyful production – from the ravishing sets by Michael Yeargan to the glittering Edwardiana-inspired costume designs by Catherine Zuber. Meanwhile, Christopher Gattelli weaves his magic with some stunning song-and-dance choreography.
Foggy Londony streetscapes whirl in and out, a spinning house complete with Sherlock Holmesesque study takes centre stage, and then there’s the scene: the Ascot Gavotte. I was pleased that this production didn’t try and mimic Cecil Beaton’s iconic black and white Ascot Gavotte. Instead, Zuber’s genteel Ascot lords and ladies lineup in shades of mauve and grey – slick, playful and powerful. It finished with a chorus of complimentary oohs and aahs throughout the auditorium.
This My Fair Lady is deeply charming and enchantingly dizzy. So what are you waiting for? Whether you live in London or in Hertford, Hereford or Hampshire, move your bloomin’ arse and get over to the London Coliseum– it’s nothing short of perfection.
My Fair Lady | London Coliseum | On until 27 August | Run-time: 3 hours including an interval | Book tickets.
My Fair Lady also goes on tour from September 2022 to Bradford, Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Southampton.