Review: My Fair Lady at Sunderland Empire

Review: My Fair Lady at Sunderland Empire

Following its critically acclaimed West End run, the Lincoln Theater’s multi-award winning multi-award winning production of My Fair Lady is now on tour! According to the Evening Standard, this production is a “Rolls Royce of a revival”. The glorious production of Lerner and Loewe’s world famous musical includes the much-loved classic songs I Could Have Danced All Night and Get Me to the Church on Time.

(Above: Taken from My Fair Lady the Musical website)

I could have danced all night on this wonderful evening seeing My Fair Lady at Sunderland Empire Theatre. Walking up to the theatre, you couldn’t miss it with its beacon of magenta light. I love this touch at Sunderland as I have seen them do it before for different shows fitting the colour theme perfectly. It really gives me an excited buzz before I have even stepped foot in the building. As we entered we were greeted with the grand venue filled with luxurious costumes from the show (just, wow), flower walls to take selfies with, an array of colour scheme fitting balloons and flowers upon tables. A really beautiful touch which you can tell has been planned down to every last detail. We were certainly going to be in for a treat. 

I have adored the resurgence of older shows. As a real lover of musical theatre and an am-dram member myself I have grown up singing all of the classics in many concerts and reviews. As Aaron will be able to tell you, I was incredibly excited for this particular show. I Could Have Danced All Night is one of my go-to show picks – I only wish I did it as much justice as the wonderful Charlotte Kennedy did last night. 

I was shocked to see just how packed the Empire Theatre was for a Thursday evening and there was an excited buzz all around.

We took our seats and the stage was set with the lamppost and the iconic flower basket. As the curtain opened, we were greeted with a sheer gauze and the back streets of Covent Garden.
Beautiful imagery and striking scenery from the off.

Straight away we met our characters, the ever so charming Colonel Pickering which was excitingly played by John Middleton – yes, that is Ashley from Emmerdale. He gave great stage presence and provided us with many funny moments throughout the show. Then the bolshy, brash and brazen Eliza Dootlittle played by Charlotte Kennedy with her thick cockney accent burst through selling her flowers. I won’t lie at first I found it difficult to make out what she was saying and I think more annunciation could have improved the accent – which by the way, is no mean feat – especially during the scenes where she is learning her vowels and the Rain in Spain but as the show went on I became accustomed to it. Quite charming actually.

Michael D. Xavier delivered the role of Henry Higgins and from the off was an absolute joy to watch on stage. He had just the right amount of intensity and grit in his acting and singing. Xavier was just pure joy to watch on stage and quite honestly was an acting masterclass. He delivered difficult songs with impeccable timing, effortless movement and humour with great ease. 

I was so excited when the Orchestra played their overture and just knew the music was going to be brilliant throughout. They truly never missed a beat. The “Loverly” Quartet was just well … Loverly – there is just something beautiful about that blend of tenor and basses singing almost acapella. Kennedy showed off her strong vocal from the off and moved around the stage with gousto. I loved the flower slide they managed to create- props to the prop team- this was a really fun moment within the song. 

One thing to marvel at about this show is the grandeur of the scenery and the finesse in their slick scene maneuvers. Not one single black out was needed and this meant the action truly never stopped. I love how the cast moved the scenery – particularly during the street and pub scenes and they were in costume too! You were really never taken out of the 1913 setting. Sheer class – all of these little details did not go unnoticed. 

I adored Henry Higgins’ home and marveled at the way it rotated and filled the full stage. It looked every inch a real upper class house and every fine detail had been thought of. The light shining through the window to indicate the time of day was a feature I really loved. I also admired the ease of which they used the doors to get to the other rooms – so seamless! During the house scene we met Mrs Pearce who was wonderfully charming played by the icon that is Lesley Garrett. Not so much a huge singing role, surprisingly however, I did hear some of those breathtaking top Soprano notes during the ensemble songs. We noted how she had such great stage presence she didn’t even need to talk – those facial expressions and eye rolls were enough!

A big surprise of the evening for me was Alfred P. Doolittle played by Adam Woodyatt of Ian Beale from Eastenders fame. I had actually recently been to watch him in Looking Good Dead and was impressed with his acting chops then but I did wonder how we would be in a musical… singing! He was brilliant! So full of life and fun and I found myself excited to see him on stage once again.

The drunken trio mastered “With a Little Bit of Luck” and moved around the stage with great precision. My favourite song of the whole show just had to be “Get Me to the Church on Time.” What an explosion of colour, vibrancy and energy! I loved the use of the Can Can dancers and even having some male dancers too – bringing the story right into the 21st Century. Everyone on stage just looked like they were having the greatest time. I particularly loved the choreography when they carried him as if he was going to a funeral to be married. I did find myself wanting to shout “He’s got nothing left!” after he had spent so much money in the pub however!

Another of my favourite parts of the show had to be “I Could Have Danced All Night” heading into the scene at Ascot. As much as I enjoyed watching Eliza trying to battle the millions of different speech therapies – the funniest being “I swallowed a marble” –  Higgins had thrown at her, seeing her conquer The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain was incredible and also got a huge cheer from the audience. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for an actor to split their voice into two distinct and opposite accents. 

Eliza was finally ready to trial out her new ladylike manner to battle Ascot. The chorus entered our race day and those outfits were truly iconic – I need one of those hats immediately. They strayed from the typical black and white theme but I really enjoyed it. In the song “Ascot Gavotte” the ensemble were so deadpan it was comically brilliant. The choreography was so precise and sharp and looked incredibly dynamic. The use of surround sound immersed you into the races and it really sounded like the horses were running the race right behind us. This was followed by brilliant comedic acting from Eliza herself. “Come on Dover! Move your bloomin ….” This was followed by Freddy Eynsford Hill played by Tom Liggins singing “On the Street Where You Live” – beautifully performed and really endearing. 

At the end of Act One we got to see Eliza dressed and ready for the Embassy Ball and that dress was breathtaking. The glisten from the stage lighting was truly magical and she looked every inch a true princess. Every single costume on stage was a work of art – magnificent and grand and worked so well upon the stage under the lighting.

I have to say Charlotte Kennedy’s voice was so special and she sang some of the most beautiful Soprano notes I have ever heard. This left the audience astounded and she was well deserving for her standing ovation at the end. 

My Fair Lady is not for the faint of heart as it is one of the longest shows I have ever seen. Act One is a total of 90 minutes but it really is 90 minutes of pure joy. So if you are going to see it just be prepared for a long sit time. 

I enjoyed every minute of my experience at Sunderland Empire Theatre. They really perfected every element of this show from casting to choreography, costuming to props, staging to singing. A really special evening. So … with a “Little Bit of Luck” you will still be able to grab some tickets for this wonderful show.

Review by Robyn (Ticket: Gifted)

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