THE LEAD COUPLE: Rebecca Hodgetts as Eliza and Paul Sheehan as Professor Higgins. Photo: C.H.Z Photography
My Fair Lady
The Harlequin Theatre, Redhill
Reviewed by Simon Ames
For many in the audience, this show was a reminder of how sublime melodies and indelible characters can easily transport them to the realm of romantic fantasy.
Surrey Opera's staging of Lerner and Loewe's hugely successful musical theatre, launched in the 1950s, ticked all the boxes for good casting, convincing sets, excellent direction, memorable portrayals by the principal characters and fine overall performances from the chorus and orchestra.
Rebecca Hodgetts delivered a commanding portrayal of the wilful Eliza – her transformation from flower vendor to fair lady showed the versatility that she has acquired as a young professional.
The demanding role of Professor Higgins, skilfully played by Paul Sheehan in a flawless performance of the arrogant linguist, brought all the nuances that Rex Harrison created in the original production. Portrayal of his fellow cohort Colonel Pickering was persuasively provided by Tim Baldwin.
Kevin Jones captured the cockney spirit of Alfred P Doolittle with a gusto that many could identify from Stanley Holloway's original moulding of the larger-than-life personae of Eliza's father.
Musical highlights from the collection of famous numbers included Doolittle's energetic With a Little Bit of Luck, also marked by some deft cockney choreography. The speech therapy takes a new twist in The Rain in Spain as Higgins begins to see results of his long hours of training with Eliza. The soliloquy of I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face from Higgins as he brings a flicker of admiration towards his erstwhile protégé was perfection.
James McOran-Campbell as the love-lorn Freddy Eynsford-Hill brought empathy to On The Street Where You Live and enduring characterisations came from both Morven Rae as Higgins' long-suffering housekeeper Mrs Pearce and Alison Cooper as the peace-keeping mother of the professor.
The show was another triumph for the multi-talented Jonathan Butcher who directed the stage production and the choreography as well as handling music director and conductor. It was an evening of rich entertainment and high accomplishment – all that we have come to expect from the skilful company of enthusiasts that make up Surrey Opera.