Monday, September 5, 2022

MY FAIR LADY - Free-Rain Theatre Company.


Alice Ferguson (Mrs Higgins) - D.G.Maloney (Professor Higgins) - Stephanie Bailey (Eliza Bailey)
and ensemble. 

Directed by Anne Somes for Free-Rain Theatre Company.

Musical direction by Alexander Unikowski - Choreography by Michelle Heine

Set designed by Cate Clelland - Costumes designed by Fiona Leach.

Lighting designed by Jacob Aquilina - Sound designed by Joel Edmonson. 

The Q, 30th August to 25th September 2022.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Having successfully presented a succession of contemporary musicals in recent years, Free-Rain Theatre Company has turned its attention to a musical which from the time it premiered on Broadway in 1956 has been hailed as a classic.

Based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play “Pygmalion” which Alan Jay Lerner cleverly mined to produce his inspired book and lyrics, teamed with a glorious score composed by Frederick Loewe, “My Fair Lady”, even in Anne Somes’ scaled-back production for Free-Rain theatre Company, still has the capacity to enchant and surprise, especially with the relevance of what it has to say to a contemporary audience in an era focussed on female empowerment.

Given the limited resources available to her at the Q, Somes has wisely dispensed with the lavish set pieces usually associated with this musical, in favour of simple impressionist setting designed by Cate Clelland; relying on some elegant furnishing and a single LED screen to indicate changes of locale.

Fiona Leach’s attractive costumes signal period without aiming for historical accuracy and Michelle Heine’s ever-inventive choreography for the ensemble, together with Somes’s clever use of lighting to create attractive tableaus to introduce various scenes,  provided sufficient spectacle to compensate for the lack of scenic elements.

It’s an approach of course that leaves the cast very exposed. However Somes has assembled and showcased an outstanding cast perfectly capable of coping with such exposure.

D.G. Maloney (Professor Higgins) - Pat Gallagher (Colonel Pickering)

Among them, D. G. Maloney, as the proudly misogynist Henry Higgins, is outstanding. Maloney offers a dazzling interpretation of the role. His perfect diction throughout whether speaking or singing, his cleverly phrased lyrics and command of the stage makes his a performance to behold. 

No less impressive however is Stephanie Bailey as the cockney flower-seller, Eliza Doolittle, with whom Higgins wins a wager with his friend Colonel Pickering to pass off as a high-born ‘Lady’. Bailey matches Maloney every step of the way with a confident, beautifully sung and completely captivating interpretation which culminates towards the end of the show in a fiery argument between the two when Eliza refuses to bow to Higgins’ domination.

Stephanie Bailey (Eliza Doolittle) and male ensemble

Completing this impressive trio, Pat Gallagher as Colonel Pickering, in one of his best performances to date, contributes a warm and thoroughly delightful characterisation as the voice of reason who “treats a flower girl like a lady” in contrast to Higgins “who treats a lady like a flower girl”.

Isaac Gordon, as a surprisingly scrubbed-up Alfred P Doolittle, comes into his own in the rollicking “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “I’m Getting Married in the Morning”. Pippin Carroll shines in a charmingly off-beat interpretation as the lovelorn, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, earning cheers for his lusty rendition of “On the Street Where You Live”.

Isaac Gordon (Alfred P. Doolittle) and ensemble

Alice Ferguson goes a long way towards stealing the show as the elegant and wise, Mrs Higgins, and Jill Young charms as Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper, Mrs Pearce.

The large ensemble fill the stage with a multitude of individual supporting characters, singing and dancing with engaging enthusiasm, no doubt inspired by Alexander Unikowski’s excellent orchestra which succeeds in capturing the magnificence of Lowe’s superb score.

Once again Free Rain Theatre has created a charming production of a theatrical masterpiece which is guaranteed to have you humming all the way home.  


                                             Images by Janelle McMenamin

              This review first published in Canberra City News on 2nd. September 2022.