London Coliseum – until 27 August 2022
On the eve of Eliza Doolittle day, the London Coliseum was packed to the rafters and buzzing to see the long-awaited West End transfer of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady. Bartlett Sher’s joyous production had a highly acclaimed run on Broadway and has now opened here, with the glorious Amara Okereke in the leading role. A role that seems made for her.
As Eliza, Amara is astounding in her versatility. From loud, brash and boisterous, she can flip to a calmer, softer side in an instant and is a joy to watch, whatever side she is showing. Taking on the role of Henry Higgins, the phonetics professor who bets that he can transform a cockney flower girl into a Duchess, is Harry Hadden-Paton who is engaging, witty and kind of manic. His relationship with Eliza is interesting and feisty. They are combative throughout but there’s also a simmering slow-burn relationship happening that is so enjoyable to watch.
In supporting roles, there are some gems. Malcolm Sinclair is hilarious as Colonel Pickering and Vanessa Redgrave is charming as Higgins’ mum. Stephen K Amos also gives a comedic performance as Eliza’s dad, Alfred. His vocals are quite as strong as you’d expect but his performance is spirited and exciting.
This really is a sumptuous production, with absolutely beautiful costumes by Catherine Zuber which reference the film nicely but aren’t direct copies. The iconic Ascot scene is particularly impressive. In terms of the stage design there are peaks and troughs. Michael Yeargan has crafted a meticulously detailed Edwardian house, which spins on a revolve to to reveal the various rooms.
However, the other sets aside from this are somewhat lacklustre and fail to provide the wow factor you’d expect with a production like this. Everything works and effectively tells the story but there’s a final sparkle missing that keeps it from being a five star production. There’s also the unavoidable issue that Higgins’ patronising reaction to Eliza has not aged well at all and his flaws make it hard to really root for him. The open ended closing of the show does help to ease this uneasiness but there’s still a lingering awkwardness.
Despite these faults, it really is a lovely production which is chockablock with humour. And whilst is does show its age at times, much of the show feels fresh and Amara gives a starring performance that is worth the ticket price alone.