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Phil Hopkins
Group Travel Editor & Theatre Correspondent
@philhopkinsuk
12:00 AM 13th June 2024
arts
Review

Bloomin’ Loverly! My Fair Lady

 
The company of My Fair Lady. Photo: Pamela Raith
The company of My Fair Lady. Photo: Pamela Raith
In 1956 the New York Times dubbed My Fair Lady ‘One of the best musicals of the century’ and it is not hard to understand why when you watch the magnificent production currently gracing the stage of Leeds Playhouse: absolutely brilliant.

A co-production with Opera North, Lerner and Loewe’s musical masterpiece, from the hand of Playhouse Artistic Director, James Brining, is almost seamless thanks to not only his direction, but the wonderful voices and musicians of Opera North under the baton of Oliver Rundell.

Katie Bird as Eliza Doolittle and John Hopkins as Professor Henry Higgins were absolute mainstays, driving the production forward in a tour de force of performance, that left the audience mesmerised and so involved in this atypical ‘love story’, that there were periodic gasps as chauvinistic Higgins uttered words almost alien to a young, 2024 audience!

Katie Bird as Eliza Doolittle
Katie Bird as Eliza Doolittle
It is the classic story of a Covent Garden flower girl who receives lessons from a phonetician who, as part of a bet, boasts he can pass her off as a duchess, which he successfully does. And, it is not hard to see where Hollywood borrowed some of its ideas for Pretty Woman, another movie classic that continues to beguile and transfix.

For all its success over the decades – the song lyrics are stupendous – it is ironic that it took so long for George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, to come to fruition as My Fair Lady. Passed over by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe finally grabbed the nettle, delivering their masterpiece in 1956 despite several thwarted attempts.

John Hopkins as Professor Henry Higgins
John Hopkins as Professor Henry Higgins
Rex Harrison has a strong association with the Hollywood movie and is an actor who ‘talks’ rather than sings his songs, but John Hopkins captured that aspect of Harrison perfectly: he really was excellent and when I can wholeheartedly recommend this show to 91-year-old Auntie Pat – I couldn’t with the Dolly Parton musical - I know that the Playhouse, for all my politically correct tussles in the past, have nailed this one! It was just superb entertainment.

The characterisations unfolded gently and change was subtle but perfect, and the songs kept coming: Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, The Rain in Spain, I Could Have Danced All Night and the iconic Get Me to the Church on Time under the watch of Richard Mosley-Evans as Eliza’s dad, Alfred Doolittle, who grew on me with every passing scene.

Centre Richard Mosley-Evans (Alfred Doolittle) with My Fair Lady company members Nicholas Butterfield and Tim Ochala-Greenough. Photo: Pamela Raith
Centre Richard Mosley-Evans (Alfred Doolittle) with My Fair Lady company members Nicholas Butterfield and Tim Ochala-Greenough. Photo: Pamela Raith
It would be remiss of me not to mention Madeleine Boyd’s versatile, stunning set that moves between a pub, Covent Garden and Higgins’ study in the blink of an eye, whilst Lucy Hind's choreography gave the show pace and across-the-stage movement.

Dean Robinson as Colonel Pickering was Higgins’ perfect foil and Ahmed Hamad was ‘Freddy’, totally besotted by Eliza and complete with his own beautiful voice.

Dean Robinson (left) as Colonel Pickering
Dean Robinson (left) as Colonel Pickering
When people leave the theatre commenting that they could come back tomorrow night, you know you have just seen something special.

Leeds Playhouse is a magnificent venue with some highly talented people and, just up the road, the same can be said of Opera North. Bring the two together and you have fire.

This is a red-hot show that burns until the end of June. Well worth a visit.

My Fair Lady
Leeds Playhouse’s Quarry Theatre
Until 29th June
Box office 0113 213 7700. Book online leedsplayhouse.org.uk