In Review

My Fair Lady at the London Coliseum: a ‘daringly sumptuous’ show

This ‘Rolls-Royce of a revival’ gives the classic musical a modern feel

Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 musical My Fair Lady is so “witty and well-crafted” that, given enough resources, it’s hard to mess it up, said Nick Curtis in the London Evening Standard. Bartlett Sher’s “Rolls-Royce of a revival” at the Coliseum has certainly had money spent on it. “The sets are clever, the costumes stunning, and there’s a full-on Broadway dance routine featuring showgirls, showboys and everything in between” for Get Me to the Church on Time.

But the production also feels “fresh” and modern, with “colourblind casting of proles and aristocrats” and a sensational performance from Amara Okereke as Eliza Doolittle. The first black actress to play Eliza, she has an “effortlessly clear, full and expressive singing voice, and can be meltingly soft, blazingly furious and beautifully still. She owns the Coliseum stage, and the role.”

From the moment the overture begins, this My Fair Lady – a hit in New York – is “daringly sumptuous” and “unashamedly sensuous”, said Quentin Letts in The Sunday Times. It has a “mission to entertain and enchant”, and its three-hour running time flies by.

It is the “definition of a comforting night out at the theatre”, said Arifa Akbar in The Guardian – “it glides from one well-loved song to the next on an elegantly twirling set”. Yet it is oddly flat: “solid” and efficient rather than “spectacular”. There are no “knowing winks, twists or clever allusions to the here and now”, and there is no real chemistry between Okereke’s Eliza and Harry Hadden-Paton’s unusually boyish Higgins.

Some of the choreography lacks a “sense of self-determined spontaneity”, said Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph, and the sets “can look empty during the street scenes and cluttered for the interiors”.

I found much to enjoy, said Dominic Maxwell in The Times – including some fine supporting performances. Malcolm Sinclair excels as Colonel Pickering, while Vanessa Redgrave appears in an “emotionally intelligent cameo” as Higgins’s mother. Overall, though, the production is more diverting than transporting. It’s a “very decent” My Fair Lady – but not a great one.

London Coliseum WC2. Until 27 August

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