entertainment

My Fair Lady review: Leading lady Amara Okereke is a 'once in a blue moon' talent

Simon Button writes subtle changes have been made to make the show more fitting for modern audiences.

2022-05-19

Words: Simon Button; pictures: Marc Brenner

I first saw Bartlett Sher’s magnificent revival of My Fair Lady at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2018 and was blown away by Lauren Ambrose’s revelatory turn as flower girl Eliza Doolittle. So much so that I couldn’t imagine a UK transfer without the Six Feet Under star attached.

Since Sher’s equally magnificent South Pacific and The King and I both made it to these shores after acclaimed Broadway runs, it seemed a dead certainty.

Harry Hadden-Paton as Professor Henry Higgins, Amara Okereke as Eliza Doolittle, and Malcolm Sinclair as Colonel Pickering (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Now, four years and one pandemic later, the classic Lerner & Loewe musical has taken up a summer residence at the London Coliseum - a fittingly lush venue for this most sumptuous of shows - but without Ambrose in the lead.

Instead, the cockney lass moulded into a fine-speaking lady by Professor Henry Higgins is played by Amara Okereke, who I’m happy to say is even better. Hilariously coarse before her transformation and captivating afterward, she sings the likes of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’ with the sweetest of voices.

She’s one of those amazing talents who comes along once in a blue moon and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Dame Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs. Higgins and Amara Okereke as Eliza Doolittle (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Harry Hadden-Paton has been brought in from the New York production to play the well-to-do Higgins and he’s really good. The formidable Vanessa Redgrave makes a rare stage appearance as Henry’s equally formidable mother, and the always reliable Stephen K. Amos romps it up a treat as Eliza’s heavy-drinking dad.

Sher revels in the spectacle. The costumes are ravishing, especially during the Ascot races scene. The sets, such as Higgins’ two-story home, are opulent. The orchestrations give the timeless score its due as one of musical theatre’s most glorious. And the big numbers, like ‘Get Me to the Church on Time’, are very big indeed.

Harry Hadden-Paton as Professor Henry Higgins (Photo: Marc Brenner)

But the director never loses sight of the human drama at the centre of all the pageantry and he subtly reframes a story about a man’s attempts to refashion a woman the way he sees fit (jarring in 2022 but then we are talking about the early 1900s as viewed from 1954 when My Fair Lady premiered with Julie Andrews as Eliza) so that Higgins comes across as something of a buffoon and Eliza keeps her dignity intact.

The ending (which I won’t spoil here) has been subtly changed to make her seem less of a marionette and more of a modern woman. Whether it’s right to alter beloved stories set in a very different past to make them sit easier in these woke times is open to debate. But this is a reverent, gorgeous restaging of a truly loverly show.

It’s only on until 27 August so, in the words of Okereke’s Eliza, move your bloomin’ arse and treat yourself to a ticket.

Rating: 5/5

My Fair Lady is at the London Coliseum until 27 August. For more information visit myfairladymusical.co.uk and for great deals on tickets and shows click here.