The Lincoln Center Theater’s lavish production of this absolute classic is a great fit for the Hippodrome stage. A huge company of performers and a whopper of a set all have room to cohabit. There is certainly no stinting on production values here.
Phonetics professor Henry Higgins encounters Cockerney flower seller Eliza Doolittle and their lives are changed forever. He diagnoses her with Irritable Vowel Syndrome and embarks on a project to get her speaking like a lady and accepted into high society within six months. And so we get a series of comic scenes where vowels are strangled until Eliza is finally able to impersonate her oppressors in the ruling class.
Higgins is a tough man to like. His views are problematic, even misogynistic, but Michael D Xavier imbues him with a kind of charm and enthusiasm that make us warm to him despite his Chauvinistic remarks. Charlotte Kennedy positively shines as Eliza, although I prefer her gorblimey stage to her more ‘refined’ moments. What snobs like Higgins fail to realise is that the beauty of the English language lies in its rich diversity of regional accents and dialects. There is no one way to ‘talk proper’. Be that as it may, Kennedy’s songs are to be relished. She looks and sounds the part, whatever the requirements of the scene.
Emmerdale’s John Middleton makes a sprightly Colonel Pickering, while EastEnders’s Adam Woodyatt brings the house down as Eliza’s gorblimey father, Alfred. Get Me To The ChurchOn Time is a real showstopper, staged here with all-out gusto. Lesley Garrett provides a nice spot of character acting as housekeeper Mrs Pearce, and you can hear her famous soprano ringing out in the chorus numbers. Tom Liggins, playing Eliza’s suitor Freddy, gets the best song of the show, the gloriously romantic On The Street Where You Live, and he sings it superbly.
Michael Yeargan’s impressive set never overshadows the action and director Bartlett Shaw has the characters moving through and around it fluidly. The sheer scale of the production knocks your socks off. And then there’s the sumptuous score by Frederick Loewe – such melodies! – and the evocative lyrics by Alan J Lerner. And you’re reminded why this is a prime example from the golden age of Musical Theatre.
Shaw (Bartlett) acknowledges Shaw’s (George Bernard) social commentary by restoring the starker final moment of original play Pygmalion – so don’t expect a cut-and-dried musical theatre happy ending.
A splendid old-school evening at the theatre combining Shavian class critiques with soaring romance.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Michael D Xavier and Charlotte Kennedy (Photo: Marc Brenner)
Sean McKenna’s adaptation of Peter James’s novel is doing the rounds. It’s a Reader’s Digest version of the book, rattling through the plot at a rate of knots. There is no time for nuance and the dialogue is limited to only that which moves things forwards. But then you don’t come to these things for subtlety. What we do get is a cracking, fast-moving thriller that keeps us guessing and offers up a few surprises.
With Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) and his most recent on-screen Mrs (Laurie Brett) leading the cast as Tom and Kellie Brice, the play looks and sounds like a cranked-up episode of EastEnders, and indeed the acting style is not far removed from the world of soap. Woodyatt/Beale is exactly as you would expect, and he does a good job of alternating between sarcasm and desperation. Brett has more of a stretch, as the compulsive cleaner, reformed alcoholic Kellie. Completing the household is Luke Ward-Wilkinson as their 17 year old son, Max, who manages to come across as younger and younger as the action hots up.
The plot kicks off with Ian Beale bringing home a USB stick he found on a train. He recruits Max to help him access the content, with a view to returning it to the owner. They stumble across very dark material indeed, namely a live feed of a young woman being killed. Is it a fake? Is it special effects? Meanwhile, poor Ian is struggling to find clients for his business, and Jonas Kent (Ian Houghton) happens along and it looks like the Beale-Brices are out of the woods. But then Max receives a warning from the online killers…
If you switch your brain off and go along for the ride, this is a hugely enjoyable ride. Director Jonathan O’Boyle serves up suspense by the bucketful, and there’s a lot of fun to be had by trying to second-guess the plot (which I succeed in doing, if I may brag for a second!)
Recurring character Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (played this time by Harry Long) indulges in a lot of banter with his subordinates, Leon Stewart and Gemma Stroyan, adding humour to the mix as well as police-procedural jargon for authenticity. Mylo McDonald brings an air of menace as online killer Mick, who is Oirish so of course he’s called Mick.
Michael Holt’s set effectively separates the action from the on-screen and the off, while Max Pappenheim’s sound design underscores the action, although some of the ‘stings’ are a bit on the nose, veering us into the realms of melodrama.
This fast-paced roller-coaster doesn’t allow time to mull over the convenience of some of the plot points, but this isn’t True Crime, it’s crime as entertainment and as such, it fills its remit admirably. Super fun!