With the casting of Richard E. Grant as Professor Higgins, gorgeous set and costume designs by Richard Roberts and Roger Kirk, respectively, and the considerable vocal talents of Opera Australia's chorus, the company's new production of Lerner and Loewe's classic musical, "My Fair Lady," proves a winning combination despite its flaws.
With the casting of Richard E. Grant as Professor Higgins, gorgeous set and costume designs by Richard Roberts and Roger Kirk, respectively, and the considerable vocal talents of Opera Australia’s chorus, the company’s new production of Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical, “My Fair Lady,” proves a winning combination despite its flaws.In his singing debut, Grant uses his boundless charisma and adroit timing to easily compensate for his airy voice in Higgins’ few numbers. Eliza (Taryn Fiebig), however, comes off more frumpy than felicitous, with a disagreeable accent that’s an unrecognizable variation on the required Cockney. In addition, Rhys McConnochie’s Pickering fails to impress vocally or as the professor’s comic sidekick. But Matthew Robinson is a superb singer who makes the most of Freddy’s songs, and John Wood is energetic as Eliza’s dustman father Alfred Doolittle. Local musical theater vet Nancye Hayes, as Prof. Higgins’ mother, embodies just the right combination of maternal displeasure and matronly camaraderie. OA director Stuart Maunder has taken a traditional approach to the staging, although he could have added more movement for the chorus, whose powerful singing nonetheless makes up for the fact they mostly stand there and, well, sing. Roberts’ sets are faithful and lush, and Kirk’s costumes, especially the broad-brimmed hats in the Ascot scene in a color scheme of black, white, gray and apricot, are stunning. This production was spun out of OA’s traditional season by its commercial division, Opera Enterprises, which is charged with finding broader auds for the national opera company, both demographically and geographically. Although uneven, “My Fair Lady” should nevertheless prove to be popular, in a large part as a result of Grant’s irresistible charm.