Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A very fair Lady

The praise the local press showered on Trevor Nunn's revival of My Fair Lady was generally deserved, although I can't say that the show was actually critiqued very accurately. Nunn didn't try to re-interpret, much less re-invent, the show, thank God - in fact, he sometimes mimicked the original (stage and screen) versions precisely; but he did tweak the musical here and there, perhaps not always to positive effect. For some reason, for instance, the death of Edward VII was worked into the action - perhaps only to spare the costume designer from having to top Cecil Beaton's famous costumes at Ascot (which here, instead, was draped in mourning). And I wasn't particularly crazy about Matthew Bourne's slightly clumsy choreography, either (although he did devise a few amusingly equine moves for the horsey set).

The revival was instead chiefly notable for its general subtlety and intelligence (o rare!), its ingenious set (which transformed itself around a Crystal-Palace-like lattice from library to Covent Garden and beyond), and the performances of its two leads. Lisa O'Hare, as you probably know by now, combined Audrey Hepburn's looks with Julie Andrews's pipes (well, almost) in a charmingly scrappy performance that felt like a kind of wrinkle in the showbiz space-time continuum. As her bachelor antagonist, Christopher Cazenove likewise channeled his sole antecedent, Rex Harrison - but somehow came off as more sexless than Rex, which is of course perfectly appropriate to Shaw, but drained the air out of the show's second act, which depends on something like romance to stay afloat. As if to compensate, Nunn seemed to pour on the production numbers, which only slowed things down further. Luckily, the songs themselves remain evergreen - and, to Lerner and Lowe's eternal credit, seem to grow right out of Shaw's dialogue. Imagine Andrew Lloyd Webber pulling off that. No, no way, not even with a little bit of luck.

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