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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MY FAIR LADY (article first published : 2006-12-6)

My Fair Lady is the Playhouse Company’s new staging of a musical which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and is one of the world's great box office hit shows.

Whether or not Lerner and Loewe’s much-loved musical My Fair Lady forms part of your upbringing and culture, don’t miss it! No-one could be fail to be moved at some level – if not all of them – by this delightful and extremely humorous tale of an irascible and egotistical phonetics professor who decides to take a common Cockney flower girl out of the gutter and pass her off as a Duchess – all because of a bet! As her command of English bridges the “class” gulf between them, he unbends considerably and they end up as equals – and what their future will be is left to the audience to decide!

My Fair Lady is cleanly and carefully directed by Steven Stead. It is played out on splendid sets designed by Greg King with Neil Stuart-Harris’s elegant costume designs – the Ascot outfits were simply stunning – all adding to create an evocative elegance and stylishness of the era from the snobbish upper classes to the forthright, earthy poorer classes.

The main characters are, of course, Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, and here Steven Stead has rock-solid interpreters of these roles in Ralph Lawson and Carol Trench who were both simply superb. Ralph’s Higgins is expansive, energetic, pithy and insufferable, making absolute sense of the fact that his mother dreads introducing him to any of her friends because she never sees those friends again! As the feisty Eliza, Carol Trench tonight put in a performance that flew with the stars and her Just You Wait was delivered with much vengeful verve!

Alternating with Carol on Saturday matinees and some Wednesday performances is Durban’s high-voltage-plus actress Lisa Bobbert. I was lucky enough to catch her performance on Saturday and she is an equally superb Lisa. My advice is, save your pennies and go and see both Liza’s. They’re both equally spunky, equally delicious! You won’t be disappointed. The candle scene where Liza learns to pronounce her “h”s is hilarious!

All putting in fine performances – the best I’ve seen from them to date - are Themi Venturas as the amiable boozy Doolittle, Vera Clare as the much put-upon Mrs Higgins, Allison Cassels as the long-suffering Mrs Pearce and Frank Graham as the jovial Colonel Pickering. Michael Gritten and Sean de Klerk as Doolittle’s sidekicks were highly amusing … and danced well, too! Cobus Venter, the only other “import” apart from Ralph Lawson, brought a credible sensitivity to the part of Freddie and I enjoyed his On the Street Where You Live.

It’s always a joy to have Graham Scott in the pit conducting the KZN Philharmonic – his sure feel for the sweeping melodic line of this kind of music drawing the most from his musicians. Mark Hawkins’s choreography is vibrant and spirited – not a stereotyped box step in sight! – and Michael Broderick’s lighting design is, as always, magical.

The musical numbers all have marvellous lyrics, such as the acerbic Why Can't the English? and I'm an Ordinary Man There’s poignancy and longing in Wouldn't It Be Loverly?, I Could Have Danced All Night, and I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face.

The full-on raucous dance numbers with Doolittle and his Cockney cronies, With a Little Bit o' Luck and Get Me to the Church On Time were nicely offset by the snooty Ascot Gavotte. Not sure whether it was a sound or a diction problem, but I missed the crisp crackle of consonants needed in the latter number. The Rain in Spain sequence was a delight from start to finish.

Good to see the Opera Theatre in full swing technically – it’s a beautiful venue, particularly now that it has new seating!

My Fair Lady performances are from Tuesdays to Saturdays at 19h30 (matinees at 14h00 on Saturdays and 15h00 on Sundays). Pre-booked tickets for individual seats range from R50 to R80. Tickets at the box office an hour before performances will cost R55 to R90.

Early booking is advised via the Playhouse Box Office on 031 369 9596 or 031 369 9540, at Computicket outlets, or online at www.computicket.co.za. Parking is available at The Royal Hotel, and also at the Albany Grove Parkade after 16h30 and all day during weekends.

Don’t miss this one – you’ll come out with a smile on your face. If you don’t, then your heart must be made of steel - Caroline Smart




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