‘My Fair Lady’ is a blend of the 1956 Broadway production and the 1964 musical adaptation with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The musical is an adaptation of ‘Pygmalion’, a classic play written in 1913 by Dubliner, George Bernard Shaw.
In the 1930s, film producer Gabriel Pascal purchased the film rights to several of Shaw’s plays, ‘Pygmalion’ was amongst them, however Shaw refused permission for Pygmalion to be adapted into a musical. Twenty years later, after Shaw’s death in 1950, Pascal asked Lerner and his partner Loewe develop a musical from Pygmalion. They struggled and so Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers tried adapting the story – they gave up and the adaptation was put on ice for two years. In 1955 ‘My Lady Liza’ was born, the name was soon changed to the final line of the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’ – My Fair Lady. In 1957 it won six Tony Awards including Best Musical then the 1964 film won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Playwright Shaw became the Socialist Councillor for Covent Garden where the play is based, which five hundred years ago was the convent garden for the Westminster Abbey monks. Only just over a hundred years ago, Councillor Shaw suggested the building of the world’s very first ladies’ public toilet; it was to be built in Covent Garden. Luxury!
This Alexandra Theatre irresistible, hit production can be seen at the Regal Theatre, Subiaco, WA for five performances only, at 7.30 pm on Wed 29th June until Saturday 2nd July. With one matinée at 2.00 pm on the Saturday. Act 1 is approximately 85 minutes and Act 2, 75 minutes. Approximate running time: 180 minutes.
The Scenes: 1929 outside the Covent Garden Opera House, late on a wet night.
The sets: Professor Higgins’ sitting room has a fireplace to right of the stage. On the left of the stage is an area that acts as the professor’s office. A table with a 1900 Edison windup, wax cylinder recording phonograph with which Higgins records his pupils. Centre stage is a two-storey mobile unit with a teak staircase leading up to the bedrooms. This float carries the three-seater light tan studded leather Chesterfield settee, a chairside tea table, a musk coloured highbacked velour chair and another phonograph – It is a 1910-disc Gramophone with a large brass flower horn.
The pub unit – named after the set builder and Natalee who has a Fairy Shop, The Pear and a Fairy – had a dark blue exterior and rotated to show a fully fitted bar, stocked shelves and the pub’s dancing girls.
Other scenes included the Ascot grandstand, Mrs Higgins’ Conservatory, both with foliage and potted plants
There were two very impressive backdrops, Covent Garden and the sumptuous ballroom with its chandeliers and velvet drapes.
This massive show was admirably handled by Production Manager Tanya Hill and her assistant Trevor Graveson.
Set Construction: Jane Byrne’s concepts were bought to life by Peter Carr, Brad Pratt, Vicki Crofts, Trevor Graveson, Mary Graveson, Chloe Palliser and Taylor Westland.
Props: The head of props was Jane Byrne, the props manager Christie van der Beeke was ably assisted by Natalee, Mary and Trevor Graveson, with Charlotte Rollinson sourcing some wonderful pieces that gave an authentic air to the period a hundred years ago.
Lighting design: Don Allen at his best.
Sound design and operation: Michael Fletcher who had band balancing and dozens of headsets to contend with, did an excellent job.
In Edwardian London, after a night at the Royal Opera House, the affluent and patronising Mrs Eynsford-Hill (Em Carver) is waiting in the rain for her son Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Calen Simpson) to find a cab. In the gutter is Eliza Doolittle (Grace Edwards), a scruffy girl with a thick Cockney accent, selling flowers. A celebrated voice tutor, the narcissistic Professor Henry Higgins (Mark Thompson) has a chance meeting with Eliza in Covent Garden and cringes at the uncouthness of her dialect. When Higgins meets Colonel Pickering (Alex McLennan), another famous linguist, he invites him to stay the night so they can tackle Liza’s predicament.
When Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle (Peter Pear Carr), comes searching for money for a drink, Eliza tells him she is going to Higgins’s house in the hope of getting elocution lessons, in order to get a real job in a florist’s shop. Higgins bets Pickering that, within six months, not only will he teach Eliza to speak properly, but he will also pass her off as an upper-class lady.
Eliza becomes part of misogynistic Higgins’s household. Higgins considers himself a kind-hearted man, to Eliza his teaching methods are domineering. Higgins is about to give up when Eliza unexpectedly recites ‘The Rain in Spain’, one of her diction exercises, in perfect upper crust English. The caring, motherly housekeeper Mrs Pearce (Colleen Johnson), advises exhausted Eliza to go to bed.
When Mrs Higgins’s housekeeper (Alannah Gillis) announces the arrival of the Eynsford-Hills, the professor thinks this is the ideal time to really checkout Eliza with his mother and her friends. When Liza meets Henry Higgins’ mother (Jennifer van den Hoek) they immediately strike up a friendship – ‘anyone connected with my son deserves sympathy!’
As a further test, Higgins takes Liza to his mother’s box at the Ascot Racecourse. Eliza is doing nicely until, whilst watching the horse race, she forgets herself and relapses with profane language. Whilst at the race, she catches the eye of Freddy Eynsford-Hill who says he will wait for her in the street outside Higgins’ house.
The Embassy Ball is Eliza’s final test to pass into society as a lady. She is well-regarded at the ball, even the Queen of Transylvania (Hayley Parker) invites her to dance with her son, the prince (Christian Dichiera). A world authority in phonetics, Hungarian Zoltan Karpathy (Andrew Brown) is confused as to Eliza’s roots.
The ball is a success but Eliza receives not a scrap of praise, so runs off back to Covent Garden but she finds she no longer feels at home there. What can she do?
The other cast members, all of whom had speaking or dancing parts are Chris Alvaro, Beau van der Beeke, Chloe van der Beeke, Phil Bialas, Andrew Brown, Tori Brown, William Foskett, Alannah Gillis, Ashlee Graveson, Renae Harmer, Sarah McCabe, Kaylene McKay, Jason Nettle, Asha Perry, Hayley Parker, Belle Picchio, Trevor Preston, Georgia Raisborough, Charlotte Rollinson, Teah Steward, Alicia Taylor, Matthew Walford, and Holly Westlake.
A special mention of Christian Dichiera, Aramis Martino, RP Van der Westhuizen and Taylor Westland the essential understudies who have done a huge amount of rehearsal and possibly will not get their big chance. Well done.
Under the skilled eye of the conductor (Taui Pinker) and his fellow Musical Director (Madeleine Innes) is The Orchestra:- Violin – David Maconochie, Kristy Hughes, Elise Rosenberg, Winston ‘t Hart; Viola – Brian Chang; Cello – Amanda Reynolds; Double Bass – Meg Vicensoni; Flute and Piccolo – Mark Wilson; Clarinet – Wayne Griffiths, Tara Oorjitham; Soprano saxophone – Talitha Dunn; Bassoon – Sara Mau; Trumpet – Samantha Marley, Paul Marion, Chris Zappa; Trombone – Bryce Henderson; Tuba – David Adams; Horn – Kate Anderson, Penny Busby, Ian Charlesworth; Harp – Rachel Fish and Percussion – Zac Skelton.
Sadly, Madison Laine Thomas, the stage manager caught Covid at literally the last moment. For 90% of shows this would have been a minor problem, however with such a major production on opening night, on a new and untried stage the problems were severe. The poor deputy stage manager (Simmone Matthews) who had been assigned a myriad of minor tasks whilst controlling entrances and exits of the exceptionally large cast, now had to take over the movement of the large scene floats and the positioning of the props. The cast helped the army of assistant stage managers – Angelle Hart, Trevor Graveson, Mary Graveson, Rach Gilmour, Curtis Berry, Bella Baker, Danika Bentley, Hayley Smith, Katharina Brieden, River Davies, Toby Shepherd and Tristan Sheffield; however, a scene would be set up only to find that larger pieces of scenery were placed under partition flies and drapes that could no longer be lowered. Where should these huge props go when taken off stage? As the theatre has an excellent mechanics system for lifting scenery into the cavernous roof, many of the scene moves had been based around this. The result was major scene changes were carried out open to the audience. A great cheer went up for the poor actress who came on to remove the illuminated lamppost from ‘the street where she lives’. The audience showed patience and sympathy. Perhaps the orchestra or soloist should have a small ‘fallback’ piece on hand to fill in the unwanted gaps – in Act 1 some scene changes were minutes. In the second Act almost all of the problems were sorted out and I am certain that all the shows that follow will be problem free and slick.
This is a much-loved musical, but with a large cast requiring several changes of period costumes, the production task becomes onerous. Add to this the further requirement of opulent gowns and dinner suits, it is not surprising that a decade has passed since this was presented by a major theatre company in Perth. With such a short season the cost becomes even more burdensome. The styles of clothing were professionally researched, with everything from a Pearly King, ragamuffins to lords and ladies. The Alexandra Theatre never does anything by half, their musicals are stunningly beautiful. Head of Wardrobe was Marilyn Husk who with her assistant head, borrowed, stole, designed and made the 100 costumes. The seamstresses were Chloe Pallister, Malcolm Sankey, Alexia Husk, Anastasia Husk, Alicia Taylor, Sarah McCabe and Tracey Taylor all of whom now have shorter fingers than a month ago. You could see all the thought and arduous work of the wardrobe mistresses. Laura Hill created Eliza’s Ascot dress and Gail Reading her massive hat. The other milliners were Natalee Graveson, Charlotte Rollinson, Ashlee Graveson
The choreographer is Chloe Palliser, a young lady who has taken the WA dance world by storm with her inventive and demanding routines. This production had can-can dancers, a wild tap routine, gavottes and acrobatic street entertainers. I noted how certain team members are happy to get into every department of the show, e.g., choreographer Chloe was involved with set building and millinery. The friendliness of the cast and their interaction was clearly apparent.
The accents were authentic, Higgins would have been proud of you all. The famous line ‘The rain in Spain’ does not appear in the book, having been added by the script writers when the Oscar winning 1938 film was made. Eliza’s diction was immaculate, so I was not surprised to find that the leading lady, Grace Edwards, is a linguist who has a Masters in Speech Pathology. Her singing voice was truly mellifluous. The eight main characters were all outstanding. Mark’s difficult Henry Higgins bounced beautifully off Alex’s loveable and distinguished Pickering. High spirited Alfred Doolittle was completely encapsulated by Peter. The ladies serenity and logic helped show off the men for what they are.
With outstanding catchy music, superb emotion packed singing, lively dancing, stunning costumes and clever scenery this show glowed. Yes, the director Natalee Graveson who was assisted by Luke van der Beeke, have given us a collection of scenes where as well as the main action, little asides are taking place.
If you are a Shavian purest, then you may be upset by the adaptation of the original story, but for the other 99%, ‘garn’ it was the ‘loverliest’ of shows. An exceptional show, meritorious in every department. Highly recommended a real winner.