My Fair Lady has been a cornerstone of musical theatre for decades. A run at the National Theatre and West End revival in the 00s - featuring Martine McCutcheon, Dennis Waterman and Jonathan Pryce, and later with West End stalwart Joanna Riding, - would further cement the show in the hearts and minds of the theatre-going public. With classic songs such as On The Street Where You Live, I could Have Danced All Night, Wouldn't It Be Loverly and Get Me To the Church On Time, it feels as though My Fair Lady has been a part of our popular culture since its inception, so much so, it's even been parodied in The Simpsons.
The show, based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, is a quintessentially British tale of rags to riches that's given a gloss thanks to Lerner and Loewe's American pizzaz. The story of a Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, who's given the chance to become a lady, albeit via a wager between Colonel Pickering and Professor Higgins, may appear a tad dated and even misogynistic at first; that is until you realise that our heroine, has all the ace cards. With a bit of instructing, confidence, grace and some good PR she can set the world on fire – but on her terms. In a modern world where the Royal family allow girls without blue blood to marry princes and You Tubers to be celebrities, My Fair Lady is a modern feminist fable with a sprinkle of advice to 'fake it 'til you make it' added for good measure.
Ware Operatic are known for their consistently high-quality productions and their 50th-anniversary production of My Fair Lady is no exception.
Jilly Mabbitt plays the converted the role of Eliza. It's her first major role – but you'd never tell. Her performance captures the essence of Eliza perfectly. Her transformation from cockney flower girl to lady is striking. The Ascot racing scene, in particular, shows her skill for comic timing. As a classically trained singer, Jilly puts her skills to great use during some of the show's dramatic numbers such as Just You Wait and I could Have Danced All Night. Mick Wilson plays Eliza's imperious teacher, Professor Higgins, a role he first played for the company in 2008. Higgins' indifference and hubris should make him utterly unlikable, but Wilson allows us to see a take a sneaky peak at his softer side every now and then that eventually endears him to us as much as Eliza. Paul St James also gives another terrific performance as Eliza's loveable rogue father, Alfred.
David Ronco as Higgins' partner in crime, Colonel Pickering and Matt Lampitt as the doughy-eyed Freddy also deserve a special mention. Once again the strong ensemble is the backbone of the Ware's productions. They always produce a tremendous full sound in the crowd scenes that helps to keep the quality of Ware's productions exceptionally high. John Hebden's production follows a fairly traditional, but semi-stripped back staging of the show which allows us to keep an eye firmly on the action without any unnecessary frills. His direction brings out just the right levels in the comedy and not overworking it, especially when Eliza is in full guttersnipe mode. Equally, the more sensitive moments regarding class hierarchies and the battle of the sexes are subtlety delivered keeping the humour intact.
My Fair Lady is another worthy addition to Ware Operatic's repertoire, especially as it marks their golden anniversary. With such a competent creative team and some very talented performers they should have no worries about making it through the next fifty – now wouldn't that be loverly.