If ever a star turn was worth crossing the Atlantic for it has to be Lauren Ambrose in My Fair Lady. But, in the immortal words of the show’s heroine Eliza Doolittle, you’d better move your bloomin’ arse as Ambrose is only in it until 21 October.
Lauren’s making way for Laura Benanti, who has done revivals of The Sound Of Music, Gypsy and She Loves Me. Benanti’s bound to be a brilliant Eliza, but she’s a known quantity, whereas Ambrose - who is best known for playing the amusingly petulant, very American Claire Fisher on Six Feet Under and who has never fronted a Broadway musical before - is an absolute revelation.
Who knew she had such a lovely soprano voice, showcased in songs like ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’ and ‘I Could Have Danced All Night”? Or that she had such a flair for comedy, whining and scrunching up her face as Professor Henry Higgins tries to pass her off as posh as part of a social experiment?
Lauren Ambrose and Diana Rigg (Image: Joan Marcus)
Or that she had the range to effect Eliza’s transformation from poor flower girl to well-to-do socialite, nailing both cockney and upper-crust accents, so convincingly?
Directed by Barlett Sher, who did such a splendid job with South Pacific and The King And I, this is a lavish new take on the classic musical - colourfully-costumed and fully-orchestrated, with scenery that fills the huge Vivian Beaumont stage and big dance numbers (‘Get Me To The Church On Time’ is a real showstopper) that are as good as musical theatre gets.
Image: Joan Marcus
But Sher never loses sight of the human drama at the centre of the spectacle and he subtly reframes a story about a man’s attempts to mould a woman the way he sees fit (jarring in this era but then we are talking about the early 1900s as viewed from 1954, when the Lerner & Loewe show premiered with Julie Andrews as Eliza) so that Higgins comes across as something of a buffoon and Eliza keeps her dignity intact.
Sher’s South Pacific and The King And I both made it to the UK. Wouldn’t it be loverly if My Fair Lady, with Lauren in the lead, did the same?
My Fair Lady is at the Vivian Beaumont, Lincoln Center Theater. Visit lct.org for details.
Words: Simon Button