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Review: My Fair Lady musical at Wales Millennium Centre

If you’re heading to see Bartlett Sher’s production of My Fair Lady at Wales Millennium Centre this month, you’re in for a riotous treat and if you’re not, then you really should snap up tickets as soon as you can.

‘My Fair Lady’ was adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion, with the title taken from the Ancient Greek legendary sculptor of the same name. Finding no goodness in women, he remained unmarried, spending his time instead carving a statue out of ivory. He found the end result to be so perfect and beautiful, he fell in love with his own creation. Bernard Shaw’s play was not intended as a romance, in fact he was going for quite the opposite.

The book and lyrics where written by Alan Jay Lerner and music composed by Frederick Loewe. The original production on Broadway ran for over six years when it opened in March 1956, unsurprisingly it won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Charlotte Kennedy as Eliza Doolittle. Photo by Marc Brenner

For those of you who haven’t watched the film or studied the play, the story is all based on a bet between two noted British Linguists, Henry Higgins and Colonel Hugh Pickering. What is the bet you ask? The bet is, that Henry Higgins cannot take the unrefined, crude cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle, and transform her. Not just transform, but to be presentable as a Duchess and a “proper lady” to high society at an ambassador’s garden party.

Higgins’ goal is kept from Eliza who simply wishes to work on her speech, in the hopes of better job prospects. With two very different personalities, Eliza not being a meek and gentle lady of the ton there are clashes a plenty.

Its difficult not to write in a bombardment of superlatives after watching the show.

Lesley Garrett as Mrs Pearce, Michael D. Xavier as Professor Henry Higgins and John Middleton as Colonel Pickering. Photo by Marc Brenner

This performance really is the full package – from Michael Yeargans beautiful and creative carousel set – a rotation of split-level staircases, wheel-on trees and lantern lampposts, tavern shop-fronts – you get the picture – to exquisite costumes. They were of deep, delectable, rich Quality Street jewel colours for the wealthy and Henry Higginslounge, contrasting with subtle blues and soft pinks for the street urchins and peasants. You really see the divide in wealth.

The prettiest pale palette of pinks, beige and feathers galore make impeccable race day outfits in the infamous Shift yer Blooming Arseraces scene, which is really effectively played out with invisible horses apparently running behind the audience.

And the score – oh, the score! – all-time musical theatre classics like With a Little Bit of Luck, The Rain in Spain, Wouldnt It be Loverly?, I Could Have Danced All Night, On the Street Where You Live, and the classic Im Getting Married in the Morning – I really cant pick a favourite.

Michael D. Xavier as Professor Henry Higgins. Photo by Marc Brenner

This is a sumptuous show, bursting with the exuberance of a 30-strong talented cast, but Michael D Xavier is the stand-out star – the best Henry Higgins I ever did see.

Charlotte Kennedy as Eliza Doolittle with Jordan Crouch, Joseph Claus, Tom Ping and Oliver Teste. Photo by Marc Brenner

Charlotte Kennedy is a thoroughly convincing Eliza Doolittle – almost as endearing as Audrey Hepburn herself in the film role – just the right balance of elfin, pretty-as-a picture and comic; she was perfect in the part.

Lesley Garrett as Mrs Pearce with Annie Wensak. Photo by Marc Brenner

Opera favourite Lesley Garrett makes a great housekeeper as Mrs Pearce and EastEnders’ Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) as Eliza’s father Alfred is a revelation.

Adam Woodyatt as Alfred P. Doolittle. Photo by Marc Brenner

His ‘I’m Getting Married in the Morning’ was a veritable highlight – a riotous burlesque conga of can-can girls (and boys) inside and outside the tavern.

This was and is a faultless production of musical theatre at its very best. If you’ve not bought tickets yet they are available from £19.50.

Catch it while you can – running until November 26th at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.

To find out more and to book tickets, click here.