Ja nee, chaps and ‘chapesses’, this winter’s musical at The State Theatre, Pretoria, is My Fair Lady and, as every self-respecting musical theatre queen knows, this Lerner and Loewe musical is one of the great theatre classics.
This year is its 50th anniversary but, like us, the show hasn’t dated at all, being as fresh and amusing today as it was when we first saw it – whenever that may have been. (Don’t dare remind anyone that the film version was made in 1964, unless they first saw it on DVD that is.)
The show begins with a single (as in ‘unattached’) gentleman meeting another single gentleman and inviting him home to stay. Camp enough? Enter the girl seeking out education. The proclaimed lack of interest in the charms of the female sex by both male leads couldn’t be plainer, never mind the later song of Why can’t a woman be more like a man?.
Gay themes, or the lack thereof notwithstanding, this play has a particular resonance for the Rainbow Nation of the 21st century. The reality of people with little education, (and this is proof that not all the formerly disadvantaged people of the world grew up under the repressive Apartheid regime), who empower themselves in adulthood with social graces and foreign tongues is very relevant to the social situation in South Africa today. There are a great many people who, like Eliza, our heroine, essentially beings of their own choice, not victims of their upbringing.
The essence of the show is about the transformation of accents from the regional and dialectical ones which betray origin, class and education, to some mythical classless ideal, and it is this aspect which may worry some of the purists in the audience. In fact there were some distinctly ‘sowthefricin’ sounds emanating from the stage both in the singing and in the dialogue.
Some of South Africa’s theatrical greats star in this show; Angela Killian (Eliza Doolittle), Drummond Marais (Professor Henry Higgins), Judy Page (Mrs Higgins), Clare Marshal (Mrs Eynsford Hill) and Dianne Simpson (Mrs Pierce). There’s a lot of eye candy to be seen in the lesser roles as well, some of whom I know to be gay, and others I jolly well hope are.
Frederick Loewe’s music is easy on the ear, memorable, singable and hummable; one may be tempted to sing along. Don’t. They all, including the ensemble, do the job credibly well themselves, always a pleasant thing in a professional production. There’s a live orchestra, but they’re well hidden so there’s no eye candy quotient. Fortunately their playing is pretty.
The choreography is typical of shows of the era, interesting without being brash. I always enjoy the sheer exuberance which accompanies cartwheels and the dance routines all worked well. The mood stays upbeat and the pace is excellent. No, none of them ever remove their shirts, not even when they’re drunk and about to get married.
Nine sets and seventeen scenes are a challenge for anyone. They were all magnificent and the set changes smooth. The one which created the most powerful nostalgia for me was the Flower Market of Covent Garden. Professor Higgins’ study was beautifully crafted with a large ‘stained glass window’ and a dominating staircase for Eliza to descend from in the most gorgeous gown (to be envied by every wannabe drag queen) for the Embassy Ball. All the costumes were lovely. In fact, I’d kill for some of those in the Ascot scene. (Of course, one would need the figure to go with them.)
Packed House Productions (Pty) Ltd, the company that brought this project to life is a newish one, their only other major production being last year’s The Sound of Music in 2005 with Steve Hofmeyr, which was seen by over one hundred thousand people.
I can assure you that even if you did not, like me, appreciate that production, you can safely return for a completely different approach to this year’s musical. The company has certainly learned a lot in a short space of time which bodes well for their 2007 plans to bring us Fiddler on the Roof (April) and Annie (October) at The State Theatre and a new South African musical Soweto Story (March) at The Civic Theatre in Johannesburg.
My Fair Lady is a classic and if one has never seen it live on stage one should rectify that immediately, even if just on educational grounds. South African theatre is well supported by the gay community, and, as usual, people will travel to Pretoria with friends, lovers, fag hags and mothers from all over Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North Western Province and even the Free State for the show, dinner and a chance to hang out in Pretoria. Will the trip be worth the time, effort, petrol and cost of the seats? In this case, most definitely “Yes”.
Moira, the Faerie Godmother