It's hard to imagine a fairer lady than the one on the Opera House stage right now.
Yes, of course "My Fair Lady" is still a lovely, lilting musical, and the Cameron Mackintosh/Trevor Nunn revival that's touring the United States after its great success in England is just as beautiful to look at as you've heard. But none of that would matter if the woman at the center of it all couldn't capture our hearts. Fortunately, from the moment she first appears onstage, Lisa O'Hare does.
Both in her "guttersnipe" persona as the Cockney flower seller and as the cleaned-up lady that Professor Henry Higgins makes of her, O'Hare's Eliza Doolittle is simply irresistible: charming, high-spirited, delightful to look at and even more delightful to hear. She could have danced all night, and I'd have gladly kept watching.
That alone is reason enough to see this affectionately detailed revival of one of the great musicals - but another reason is to be reminded just how good it is, with song after song that works both individually and as part of the larger whole. And that's the other great good news about this production: Nunn's direction and Matthew Bourne's choreography work seamlessly together to highlight the thrilling integrity of the story and the score.
Purists might scoff at Bourne's "Stomp"-inspired interpolation of trash cans and saucepans into "With a Little Bit of Luck," but this raucous, rowdy dance strikes just the right note for the streetwise characters who perform it - most especially Tim Jerome's Alfred P. Doolittle, who's as broad and bawdy a father to the intrinsically elegant Eliza as you could ask.
This Doolittle is a genuinely rough character, not a music-hall lovable lush. And his roughness seems apt for this production, which shakes the stardust off the Lerner and Loewe classic without dulling its magic. If anything, the slightly (only slightly) realistic shadings of the Covent Garden scenes make the Cinderella fantasy of Eliza's transformation seem all the more enticing. We're rooting for her to clean up well because we've seen the dirt from which she came.
As Professor Higgins, Christopher Cazenove has more trouble escaping from the shadow of Rex Harrison than O'Hare does with Audrey Hepburn's (though she does bear a striking resemblance to the movie star from some angles). Cazenove's professor too often blusters and booms when he should stay above the fray; Higgins may be full of hot air, but he shouldn't look this hot under the collar. And though Walter Charles makes a wryly amusing Colonel Pickering, the two men's scenes together sometimes drag a bit.
Just get O'Hare back onstage, though, and we're dancing again. It's a small but particular pleasure to watch her bantering with the professor's mother, Mrs. Higgins, played here by Marni Nixon, who provided Eliza's singing voice for the film.
There are many other pleasures, too. Bourne's crisp, inventive choreography feels both natural and dramatic, bringing fresh energy to such beloved moments as the "Ascot Gavotte" and Eliza's grand entrance to society at the Embassy ball. Anthony Ward's sets and costumes are just brilliant: intricately and intelligently detailed, but also carefully designed to work in coherent and complementary ways.
Oh, there's just no other word for it. It's loverly.