By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHEN?: Saturday 7 May, booking to 30 August 2022 RUNTIME: 190 minutes (including a 20-minute interval)
‘By George, she’s got it.’ Remember the name Amara Okereke who was flawless in the titular role at its 1st preview.
- Read on for reasons including how this is a faithful recreation of a beloved musical with a great cast
Unlike the radical reimaging and reorchestrating of Oklahoma! which opened at the Young Vic this week, this is a predominantly faithful version of the 1956 Broadway production which won 6 Tonys and starred both Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison.
This Lincoln Center Theater Production opened on Broadway in 2018 and starred Harry Hadden-Paton (The Crown, Downton Abbey) who reprises the role here of phonetician Professor Henry Higgins who we join in the show’s opening in Covent Garden, a stone’s throw from this venue, in 1913.
He’s taking notes about the speech of Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle played here by Okereke who we have seen in both The Boy Friend (Menier) and Spring Awakening (Almeida). We last saw Martine McCutcheon’s controversial but Olivier Award-winning performance in the role in 2001 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and Okereke is as good.
The flower girl no longer wishes to ply her trade in Tottenham Court Road and aspires instead to employ Higgins to improve her diction so she can work in a florist’s and so this experiment in social mobility begins.
The original West End production transferred to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1958 starring both Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison and so it is clear that our stars here have big boots to fill.
The secret of the musical’s success of course is its songs and from the moment Eliza sings Wouldn’t It Be Lovely – the classic ‘all I want’ song – we know what her modest motivations are and we can empathise with them (‘All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air.’)
We appreciate her infuriation with Higgins and his companion Pickering (Just You Wait) and revel in the team’s success (I Could Have Danced All Night).
Elsewhere comedian Stephen K Amos (My Night With Reg, Turbine Theatre) plays Eliza’s drunken father and his hilarious big song and dance numbers With A Little Bit Of Luck and Getting Married In The Morning nail the class differences of the time and the difficulty of the task the flower girl is facing.
Diana Rigg, who died in 2020, played the role of Mrs Higgins in this Broadway production and here the role is played by Vanessa Redgrave (The Inheritance, Young Vic) and brings a much-needed humanity to the portrayal of the upper class. She deservedly receives a round of applause each time she appears here.
We also recognise Jordan Crouch from the ensemble who was so good also in Anything Goes at the Barbican last year.
Our only problem with the musical is the difficulty it had resolving the relationship between mentor and pupil. We’re sitting in the front row and it sends a real shiver down our spine when Eliza walks off the stage, immediately towards us and up the aisle and out of the theatre at the new show close.
Is it a Higgins dream? Or a final act of defiance from our heroine? It’s about as reimagined as this production gets but the good news is that its cast and songs are as brilliant and timeless as you would want them to be – luvverly.
- Pictures by Facebook courtesy Coliseum and My Fair Lady UK Tickets
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