My Fair Lady is the story of a modern Cinderella who rises from guttersnipe to genteel lady in the course of two-and-a half-hours of sheer musical magic by Innerleithen Opera.
The Memorial Hall show, made famous on stage by Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews – and by Audrey Hepburn in the hit movie – is an intelligent and lively masterpiece adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play Pygmalion, with a stunning score by Lerner and Loewe.
Nicola Watt excels as Covent Garden flower girl Eliza Doolittle and the audience is carried away by the various stages of her transformation, first to student, then to “lady.”
Watt’s performance is engaging and powerful, and her delivery of songs such as Wouldn’t it be Loverly, I Could Have Danced All Night and Just You Wait Henry Higgins reveal the soul of the character.
In the role of Henry Higgins is Stewart Wilson. Although a relative newcomer to the society, Wilson is nothing short of a revelation as the arrogant, self-centred phonetics professor, bringing his own brand of menacing overbearing to the coveted role.
Wilson’s high-water mark comes as Higgins laments when the wronged Eliza walks out on him; his loss was tangible in the I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face monologue.
But it is when they appear together that the leading pair really excel. Their portrayal of the painful relationship between former flower girl and bookish snob is entirely believable.
John Armstrong relishes his juicy role as Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, the paragon of the “undeserving poor.” His best-known musical number, Get Me to the Church on Time is a real show-stopper and comes with a strong chorus as back-up.
Playing Higgins’ fellow linguistics expert Colonel Pickering, Tom Harrison gives a suave performance, which strays delightfully from the stuffy norm of this part. Harrison squeezes every drop from his many one-liners and proves to be the perfect foil for Higgins’ abrasive personality.
Ella Muir, as the professor’s worldly-wise mother, is a model of grace, elegance, and “old opera” charm, while Leanne Young as housekeeper Mrs Pearce brings common-sense to the high-brow world of Higgins’ household.
Mark Taylor gets one of the show’s best-known numbers On the Street Where You Live and gives a fine interpretation of the bumbling and smitten Freddy Eynesford-Hill, with ample opportunity to show off his fine tenor voice.
Richard Millan and Felix Kennedy-Sommerville prove to be the perfect double act as old Mr Doolittle’s sidekicks. The chorus is as impressive in the sedate Ascot Gavotte as it is in the rousing Little Bit of Luck and show a real breadth of talent in moving so smoothly from one extreme to the other.
Once again the Innerleithen Society has been led through a successful production by the long-established creative team of producer Brian McGlasson, musical director Derek Calder and choreographer Anne Anderson.
The orchestra was under the experienced direction of John Howden, while new stage manager Christopher Wilson directed the smooth transition of scenery, sound and lighting cues very well.
“My Fair Lady” runs until Saturday (2 April). Tel. 0845 224 1908 to book.
photographs: rob gray