Review: My Fair Lady, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Andy Howells reviews The Lincoln Center Theater presentation of Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady directed by Bartlett Sher and starring Michael D Xavier, Charlotte Kennedy, Adam Woodyatt, John Middleton, Heather Jackson & Lesley Garrett.

The Lincoln Center Theater’s resplendent production of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady arrived at Wales Millennium Centre this week and frankly, it’s a blooming joyous experience!

Directed by Bartlett Sher, My Fair Lady tells the story of young Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle’s transformation into a “proper lady” by eccentric linguistics professor and confirmed Batchelor, Henry Higgins. However, as the story unfolds it becomes more than apparent that it is not just Eliza who is undergoing a transformation!

Like many, I love My Fair Lady for so many good reasons. A soundtrack that features back-to-back classic songs including songs I Could Have Danced All Night, Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, Just You Wait, The Rain in Spain, and I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face. But there’s also the Victorian imagery and costumes, realised so wonderfully over the decades on stage and screen. So, how does The Lincoln Theater’s version live up to standards that are already so high?

This version of My Fair Lady is as resplendent and magical as it is definitive. The audience are immediately transported back to Victorian London where we witness a variety of lifestyles and habitats from the dirty back streets of the working man and flower sellers to the lives of the rich and famous at the races and Buckingham Palace.

Seamless staging sees grey public houses, side streets and park railings substituted for the grandeur of Henry Higgins home, a magical set that revolves on stage from his study via bathroom, hallway and front entrance making the house servants bustling action flow effectively throughout the ongoing narrative and musical numbers.

And WOW! Those musical numbers! I was simply in my element for just short of three hours witnessing the wonderful performances from the leads and ensemble.

Charlotte Kennedy is everything Eliza Doolittle should be from feistiness to elegance. Miss Kennedy’s performance beautifully balances a diversity of emotion with carefully placed comedy. This is complimented with Michael D. Xavier’s youthful energy that gives a chemistry which works so well with Henry Higgins, while maintaining Higgins’ eccentricity and pomposity. I have never seen such a better pairing for either of the lead roles in Miss Kennedy and Mr Xavier!

There is strong support too. Adam Woodyatt really looks like he’s having a ball as Eliza’s estranged father, Alfred and he takes the ensemble cast and the audience along with him while having the fun. This comes in the shape of wonderful musical diversions including the brush-ography and wondrous baritones on With a Little Bit of Luck and a raucous, fast-paced choreography of Get Me to The Church on Time.

Surprisingly there aren’t many opportunities for soprano Lesley Garrett as Higgins’ house-keeper Mrs Pearce to break into song. Miss Garrett does make up for this by injecting warmth and compassion into her role generating a wondrous stage presence that makes her a joy to watch.

Tom Liggins as lovestruck Freddy Eynsford-Hill gives an unforgettable and outstanding performance of On the Street Where You Live. While there are further enjoyable moments from John Middleton as he attempts to keep the peace between Higgins and Eliza as Colonel Pickering while Heather Jackson delights as Higgins’ matriarchal mother.

While the ending might not be quite what you expect, My Fair Lady remains as fresh and vibrant as any of Eliza Doolittle’s flowers, leaving me with a towering feeling that I’d take delight in enjoying again and again.

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