Telling the tale of elocution teacher Higgins who seeks to make a Duchess out of East End flower girl Eliza Doolittle, mostly through refining her speech, the production has enjoyed past success on the stage, most notably in the original Broadway production starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in 1956, and the 2001 West End success with Martine McCutcheon and Jonathan Pryce.
Having re-watched the 1964 film recently, I was surprised at how many of the songs from My Fair Lady I knew and recognised, but didn’t immediately associate with it. The smorgasbord of hits includes "I Could Have Danced All Night","On The Street Where You Live" and "Get Me to the Church on Time"; such sing-along favourites are an integral part of any self-respecting pre-Christmas show.
It would be unjust of me to compare Carly Bawden as Eliza Doolittle to Audrey Hepburn in her iconic film performance, or West to that of Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins. Suffice to say, however, that she is as elegant, enchanting and perfectly-timed comedically in her role as the salt-of-the-earth flower girl turned socialite as Dominic West is irresistibly handsome in his snug-fitting suit as loveable-rogue Higgins.
West is a household name thanks in the most part to his role as Detective Jimmy McNulty in HBO series The Wire. I had expected more groupie-type cheering and whooping when he came on stage, and I was certainly the only person on our row of seats who laughed out loud when he uttered Professor Higgins’ line “Do I look like a policeman?”
The buzz and excitement of this lively and captivating production existed not only on stage; the packed theatre was thriving with laughter, cheering and an electric atmosphere. I noticed several men in the audience (my partner in particular) smirking at their female companions in response to the lyrics during "A Hymn to Him", a tongue-in-cheek, bordering-on sexist song about men’s frustrations with women, with lyrics such as “Why is thinking something women never do? Why is logic never even tried?”
The cast’s energy is remarkable, particularly in their rendition of "Get Me to the Church on Time" after which they all lie panting on the ground. After a brief respite, they leap back up. The voluptuous costumes, rich and vibrant set, soaring orchestral accompaniment, expert comic-timing and awe-inspiring vigour from the cast gives this well-worn classic a new and intriguing edge.
If the raucous applause throughout hadn’t been praise enough for the cast, a roaring standing ovation took place at curtain call, which left leading lady Bawden apparently overcome with emotion.
I was reluctant to give another five star review, having recently given the same accolade to the Studio theatre’s production of Straight. However, anything less would be a lie. If Sheffield Theatres continue to dish up such spectacular shows, I will be seen as an unbalanced critic; this is a risk I am willing to take.