Lerner and Loewe's musical retelling of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion has had a long and successful stage history. Its first Broadway and West End productions featured Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews and Stanley Holloway, while the film adaptation substituted Audrey Hepburn in the central role.
In the beautiful open-air setting of Leicestershire's Kilworth House Theatre, that honour goes to Helena Blackman, last seen here as Maria von Trapp and probably best known for her runner-up spot in the TV talent search How Do You Solve a Problem…
As in The Sound of Music, she proves more than capable of holding a show. Her transition from the guttersnipe Covent Garden flower girl to would-be duchess under the tutelage of disciplinarian Professor Higgins is superb. Blackman's voice continues to mature with confidence and some crystal-clear high notes, and she acts and dances as well as she sings.
With such an assured star in the driving seat, Mitch Sebastian's production barely puts a foot wrong. His previous successes at the venue make it hard to sustain the standard he's set himself, but he has again acquired an ensemble of hard-working, dedicated professionals to give rural theatregoers a taste of West End quality. Mark Inscoe is a Higgins in the Harrison vein, mixing spoken lyrics with a pleasing singing voice to good effect, and he's got a nice double act going with Hugh Osborne's blustering Colonel Pickering.
Tom Sterling as the young suitor Freddy has perhaps the finest voice on stage but sadly gets just one song to show it off, while Cornelius Clarke invests his Alfred Doolittle with a judicious combination of charm and cheek.
Garth Hall's excellent ten-strong band provide some seamless musical accompaniment and the strong cast fill Libby Watson's amazing and versatile set with a host of likeable characters and amusing incident.
It may not quite have the stunning spectacle of earlier shows – and that might be as much down to Messrs Lerner and Loewe as anything – but it's another welcome production that will entertain its highly supportive audience until the second half of summer, when Cole Porter's Anything Goes comes along.
- Michael Davies