Book/Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner
Music: Frederik Loewe
Director: Bartlett Sher
The highly anticipated revival of Lerner and Loewe’s classic, arrived at the Bristol Hippodrome on the 15th February after a residency at the Coliseum in London. Unsurprisingly, the cast had the privilege of performing to a full auditorium on their opening night. The excitement and anticipation of the audience was palpable, even before the show. If it wasn’t obvious from the swathes of people wearing their poshest frocks, it would have been perfectly obvious from the humming, or singing, of the hit songs whilst they queued for their programmes, drinks and memorabilia long before the curtain had risen.
As everyone knows, the famous tale of Eliza Doolittle originated from George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play, Pygmalion. A play that in its own right was immensely successful. However, it was Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 musical adaptation that captured and continues to win public affection. In a nutshell, the story tells of how, after crossing paths in Covent Garden, a phonetics professor Henry Higgins is confident that he can transform a working-class Cockney girl into a ‘lady’. Through their arrangement, the highs and lows, trips to Ascot and enunciation lessons, Eliza and Henry become a little fonder of one another than they had anticipated.
Despite having been recently ‘reinvented’, the show lacks pizazz. Bartlett Sher missed a number of opportunities to help make this production truly memorable. The set is equally lacklustre and despite a number of attempts to bring London to life, including a revolving stage, it feels stiff and dated. The cast themselves, notably the ensemble, were perfectly adequate – in sync, in tune and in character. Sadly, due to non-singing nature of her role, the audience don’t get to enjoy the dulcet and iconic tones of Lesley Garrett who (despite having one of the more minor roles) was convincing in her performance of Mrs. Pearce. More akin to Basil Faulty than Rex Harrison, Michael D. Xavier’s command of the stage in the role of Higgins made clear why he has been nominated for a number of prestigious awards. He has clear diction, good tone and oodles of charisma – a notable talent – though, perhaps, more suited to deliberately comic roles. The overzealous, ham acting was clearly of the director’s making, as Adam Woodyatt, John Middleton and Charlotte Kennedy all relied heavily on movement, traversing the stage for effect. There was very little room for subtlety, no meaning left for the quiet, in-between moments.
However, none of this seems to deter the audience; their fondness for the old familiar favourites meant that, irrespective of the unrelenting and unnecessary vibrato employed in the lead’s vocal performance and the often-flat high notes, the cast received a standing ovation. So, if you’re a big fan of the musical and are keen to commit to a night at the theatre, you’ll likely enjoy the occasion. However, for many who frequent the theatre or for anyone who adores the 1963 film adaptation, you may be a little disappointed. On the whole, it’s a little more sedate than one would hope from such a classic.
Runs Until: Saturday 25 February 2023