Palace Theatre, Manchester
Until Saturday 1st April 2023
They say all good things must come to an end, and, for now, that statement is true of Bartlett Sher’s sublime revival of Lerner & Loewe’s cherished classic, My Fair Lady, which brings its current journey to a close in Manchester following a sold out season at the London Coliseum last summer and a major UK and Ireland tour.
Sher’s shimmering Lincoln Center Theater production premiered in New York in April 2018 and was nominated for a total of ten Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, with Catherine Zuber winning for Best Costume Design.
As demonstrated with his previous Lincoln Center productions of South Pacific and The King and I (the latter of which has just set out on a new nationwide tour), Sher can seemingly do no wrong when it comes to reviving classic musicals, and My Fair Lady is certainly no exception.
Everything about this benchmark revival is glorious. The designs magnificent, the set rich and detailed, the staging elegant and fluid. The revolve helps keep things spinning – quite literally – and the (often gimmicky) device is used to great effect, particularly to help add movement to some of the more traditionally stilted numbers.
Frederick Loewe’s score sounds as thrilling as ever and, in the hands of a fine cast, Alan Jay Lerner’s sparkling book and lyrics are delivered with a wonderful freshness and zest.
Sher’s production rattles along at a good pace and with great rhythm. A small technical snag on press night, part-way through act two, halted the production temporarily and threatened to break the flow, though the performance resumed without further hitch and the cast had no problem quickly getting things back on track and re-establishing momentum.
The hugely experienced Michael D. Xavier is magnificent as the towering phonetics Professor Henry Higgins, delivering a performance that brilliantly blends the arrogance and stubbornness with the lighthearted sarcasm and biting wit. Xavier expertly highlights all the various quirks of this complex and largely unlikeable character; the eccentricities, the misogyny, the petulance. It is a memorable performance that brings to mind John Cleese and the frenetic energy of the misanthropic Basil Fawlty.
Charlotte Kennedy is an absolute joy as Eliza Doolittle. Her characterisation is pitch perfect, she sings beautifully, and certainly makes the iconic role her own. There is a wonderful chemistry between Kennedy and Xavier which adds real weight to these two mammoth roles, and the magic of the production just lifts whenever the pair are on stage together.
There is strong work from a stalwart supporting cast including an excellent John Middleton as Higgins’ friend and fellow phoneticist, Colonel Pickering; Adam Woodyatt as Eliza’s dustman father, Alfred P. Doolittle; Lesley Garrett as housekeeper, Mrs Pearce; Heather Jackson as Henry’s mother, Mrs Higgins; and Tom Liggins as Eliza’s infatuated suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill.
My Fair Lady received mixed reviews when it opened at the cavernous London Coliseum – home to English National Opera – last summer, but it is a production that works perfectly in the more intimate setting of a traditional theatre space.
A warm, elegant and beautifully crafted revival of this majestic musical. Surely it won’t be too long before it makes its welcome return to the stage.
Running Time: 3 hours (approx.), including one 15-minute interval.
Final Performance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester: Saturday 1st April 2023.
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