My Fair Lady, the iconic musical that first debuted on Broadway in 1956, gets a reprisal on the Singapore stage, this time in the glitzy Marina Bay Sands’ MasterCard Theatres. The quintessentially British production gets a new lease of life when performed by this all-star American National Tour cast. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady is a true Cinderella story: the main protagonist, Eliza Doolittle, is a lowly Cockney flower seller who is transformed into a proper upper-class and well-spoken genteel lady through the help of phoneticist, Professor Henry Higgins.
The main cast
The story is based around a wager that Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering make at the beginning of the musical. Higgins bets that he can transform “just about anybody” into a well-spoken and well-mannered person to fool the upper classes. Cue Eliza’s Cockney joie-de-vivre and boisterous nature. Higgins, played by Chris Carten, is your typical Edwardian mysogynistic learned gentleman. He sees himself as the absolute beacon of rationality, justice, and sophistication. Through his theories of class segregation, he concludes that the only thing that separates the lower class from the upper class is their ill-command of the English language. In essence, Eliza’s Cockney accent. Doolittle’s fervour and devil-may-care attitude shocks the gentle dispositions of the upper class but is endearing all the same. Despite Higgins’ stoicism, her emotions more than makes up for his lack thereof. Although Eliza is initially an unwilling and somewhat unsuccessful student, her transformation is not the only aspect that is integral to the plot. More so, it is her ability to turn those around her into a better and more humane version of themselves.
Aurora Florence as Eliza Doolittle performing her solo, “Just You Wait”
Carten brings the necessary gravitas for such a stiff-lipped character with his nuanced performance that oscillates between an unfeeling and selfish academic to a man whose emotional repression has become more than just a façade. The initially tough and indifferent Professor gives glimmers of his caring and ultimately, loving nature. His transformation from an academically-oriented “ordinary man” to that of someone capable of loving something other than his books, is equally as important as Eliza’s rags-to-riches tale. Where he brings finesse into her life, she shows him what it is to care for another without personal gain. Portrayed by Aurora Florence, she brings a sprightly yet vulnerable side to the famed Eliza Doolittle in this edition of the musical. Ofttimes, it is uncanny how much Florence resembles the famous Audrey Hepburn (who played in the 1965 film edition of the musical), especially when all dolled up in glittering ball gowns. Looks aside, Florence’s soprano is a delight to hear when she performs the musical’s catchy numbers.
Left to right: Colonel Pickering, Mrs. Higgins, Alfred P. Doolittle (Eliza’s father), Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Eliza’s love interest), and Mrs. Pierce (Professor Higgins’ housekeeper)
Beside the main two protagonists, the entire ensemble and core cast are a delight to behold. Special mention must go to the primary comedic foil found in Colonel Pickering. His colonial upper-class status belies his jovial and nurturing nature. He also becomes Eliza’s primary ally and father figure while under Higgins’ tutelage. Established and learned, Pickering clearly did not go down the same almost misanthropic path as Higgins and finds delights in the slightest of circumstances.
Another character who was an absolute pleasure to watch was Mrs. Higgins. One might expect that being the older matriarch would make her archaic and a stickler for tradition, however, that is certainly not the case. Although she has deep-rooted sensibilities that are enhanced by class differences, she is much more modern than her son, the Professor. One might actually find great similarities between Mrs. Higgins and Dowager Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) from award-winning TV series, Downton Abbey. She is increasingly on Eliza’s side and chides her son’s incapability to comprehend emotions.
This is a landmark musical not to be missed. A truly classic production that is only elevated by its stellar cast, who by the way, are all American (so kudos to them for being able to fool the best of us with their best Cockney and English accents)! With great chemistry within the ensemble, catchy tunes, and precisely coordinated dance numbers, Singapore is lucky to be able to bring such a great production to its shores a second time round.
Catch the musical while it lasts! From 11 February 2014 – 2 March 2014.
Purchase your tickets at sistic.com.sg