Magazine article Variety

My Fair Lady

Magazine article Variety

My Fair Lady

Article excerpt

LEGIT SHEFFIELD, U.K.

My Fair Lady

Crucible Theater; 980 seats; £30 ($49) top

You could be forgiven for thinking that "My Fair Lady" is so perfectly crafted that all a director need do is get out of the way. Many productions survive by delivering those famous songs (and budgeting a hefty sum for costumes), but in fact, the show's wit and surprising emotional depth demand a helmer who can balance the text and the celebrated score. Daniel Evans achieves ail that and more. His glorious production represents his first tuner as a director and will certainly not be his last.

Evans' dynamic yet ideally unforced tone is set up by Paul Wills' versatile design, which uses a turntable to switch easily between the grand arched windows of Covent Garden market - home to Eliza (Carly Bawden) and the conservatory of Mrs. Higgins (a deliciously no-nonsense Richenda Carey) - and the handsomely book-lined, two-story house of Professor Higgins (Dominic West).

The crucial ease evident in the transformations is also apparent throughout the company - all overcooked "cock-er-nee" accents have been banished - but most particularly in West's tuner debut as Higgins.

Instead of the common practice of overdosing on the curmudgeonly side of Higgins by casting someone old enough to be Eliza's grandfather, the casting of a good-looking 43-year-old makes his relationship with Eliza far more credible.

West not only appears as a stilleligible bachelor, he reveals far more of a singing voice than is traditional, which adds to his relaxed performance. That ease gives him a winning confidence that allows him to dismiss all emotions (except blinkered male ones) to deliver a more interesting self-delusion than the crusty misogyny that can stalk the role.

Evans also issues a corrective to another casting misstep. Armed with a true tenor voice, Louis Maskell sings his way into audience's hearts as suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill. But Evans also ensures auds understand that Freddy's role isn't small, because Alan Jay Lerner couldn't be bothered writing him in more depth, but because Freddy is a twit With Freddy therefore less attractive, Eliza's hankering for the challenge of Higgins makes far more sense.

Thanks to the cast's vocal command - courtesy of musical director Nigel Lilley, who, aided by Simon Baker's crisp sound design, also conjures detailed playing from the 12-piece band - the elisions from speech into song are all but invisible. Acting never stops for "a number."

That's also the result of the meshing of Tim Mitchell's lighting and Alistair David's terrific choreography. "My Fair Lady" is scarcely a dance show, but there are key ensemble numbers that welcome major injections of energy. …

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