“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” goes the song that brings “My Fair Lady” to its melting climax, but Jonathan Pryce — the much-admired Henry Higgins in the show’s London revival — begs to differ: He’s been playing opposite more Elizas than some of us have had hot meals.
“I just had my third Eliza,” reports a clearly bemused Pryce of the revolving door of thesps brought about by various illnesses.The two-time Tony winner recounts the pre-curtain speech he delivered before a sellout audience at the Royal National Theater’s Lyttelton auditorium prior to the April 25 evening perf:
” ‘This is your first Eliza and my second today and my third this week. And if anybody in the audience would like to play Eliza at any time, there are application forms at the back of the theater.’ ”
As far back as the show’s March 15 opening, tension was mounting as to whether the show’s distaff lead, 24-year-old pop diva and former soap star Martine McCutcheon, would be well enough to do the press-night performance after a bout with the flu.
She was — and received general raves in the role, only to be ill so much subsequently that her understudy, 18-year-old Alexandra Jay, has gone on some 36 times.
Complications arose when Jay herself contracted sinusitis, requiring second understudy Kerry Ellis, 21, to step into the breach.
“I’d never worked with her at all,” reports Pryce, who, to be fair, has so far skipped out on the Trevor Nunn staging three times himself. (“It still gets standing ovations,” he deadpans, “much to my annoyance.”)
Happily, Ellis managed to charm her potentially fiercest critic — her co-star. “Kerry was wonderful,” Pryce says, “and she made me laugh onstage. She amused me, which made for a very high-energy show.”
At the same time, Pryce seems resigned to the prospect of still more Elizas as “My Fair Lady” continues its sellout run through June 30.