You might wonder whether My Fair Lady, with all its old-fashioned assumptions about class and gender, can be relevant in 2022. And it’s a good question, but maybe it misses the point of this new production. The Coliseum’s new revival of the classic musical brings almost non-stop tunes and dance routines, making it an impressive spectacle.
Words Pendle Harte
Directed by Bartlett Sher, this sublime production, which premiered in the spring of 2018 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, was the winner of the Tony Award for Best Costume Design, 5 Outer Critics’ Circle Awards including Best Musical Revival, the Drama League Award for Outstanding Musical Revival, and the Drama Desk Awards for Best Musical Revival and Costume Design. The London production features 36 musicians from the English National Opera’s award-winning orchestra – making it the largest orchestra in the West End – playing Frederick Loewe’s ravishing score.
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture Pygmalion, Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady premiered on Broadway in March 1956, winning 6 Tony Awards including Best Musical, and becoming the longest-running musical in Broadway history at the time. Following this success, the production transferred to London in 1958, where it played in the West End for five and a half years.
As everyone knows, this is the story of Eliza Doolittle, a young Cockney flower seller, and Henry Higgins, a linguistics professor who is determined to transform her into his idea of a “proper lady”. But who is really being transformed? With a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, the score includes the classic songs “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
From start to finish it’s a bold, colourful spectacle, with a set that switches between Higgins’ book-lined study, the steps at the opera house, a lamp-lit street and Ascot racecourse. Costumes and dance routines are lavish, the tunes are everybody’s favourites and Vanessa Redgrave’s appearance as Higgins’ mother underlines the overwhelming sense of theatre history and nostalgia. It’s an impressive production.