Reviewer: Mark Clegg
From the urgent, pulsing opening bars of its overture to its beautifully ambiguous ending, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady is unequivocally one of the greatest musicals ever written (credit should also be given to George Bernard Shaw for the original play Pygmalion, much of which survives verbatim in the musical adaption). Debuting in 1956 and becoming the longest-running Broadway show up until that time with 2,717 performances, the show has been revived and performed numerous times since, as well as spawning the Oscar-winning movie version in 1964.
This recording is of the latest revival which opened the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in March 2018 and which is currently still running. The score is presented here in all of its timeless glory and the orchestrations don’t seem to have been tampered with too much, which ultimately puts the onus squarely on the cast to ensure that this recording can offer something different, if not better than previous ones.
It must first be said that all of the cast display true talent on this cast recording. It then must be said that judging from vocal performances alone, several key characters are unfortunately miscast. Harry Hadden-Paton from TV’s Downton Abbey is Professor Henry Higgins, a part that for over sixty years has been stuck in the shadow of Rex Harrison’s original and definitive portrayal. Hadden-Paton’s Higgins is not as aggressive or overly exasperated as we may be used to, and this slightly more mellow interpretation loses much the irony of the lyrics of I’m an Ordinary Man and lessens the impact the over-the-top blustering of A Hymn to Him: issues further aggravated by his choice to sing rather than speak-sing a lot of the songs. However his characterisation is well-rounded and entertaining and thanks to his slightly softer approach to Higgins, I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face is exquisitely moving and his performance brings a nuance to the lyrics that has been absent in previous versions.
Lauren Ambrose offers a similarly mixed performance as Eliza Doolittle: her songs delivered ‘post transformation’ such as I Could Have Danced All Night and Show Me show off her perfectly beautiful voice, but unfortunately they are counter-balanced by a truly awful Cockney accent in Wouldn’t It Be Loverly and particularly Just You Wait. This is unfortunate as Ambrose displays huge talent but considering the whole story centres on the importance of dialect, having a Dick Van Dyke-style accent is unacceptable. Norbert Leo Butz as Eliza’s father Alfred has similar issues with his accent and although Butz has proven his talent in previous cast recordings like Wicked and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, here his strangely mumbling Doolittle is a complete misfire. Elsewhere Linda Muglestone mangles an unnecessary Scottish accent as Mrs. Pierce, but otherwise the rest of the cast fair better: Jordan Donica as Freddy and Allan Corduner as Pickering rounding out the small principal singing roles.
Like many cast recordings of musical revivals, this soundtrack is no doubt a lovely souvenir for those who attend the show. However for anyone else, while there are some brilliant interpretations of certain songs, overall there is no compelling reason to choose this over the sixty-two-year-old original.
Available from Broadway Records | Image: Contributed