BBC Radio 3, 14 July 2012
This is the second radio production of Lerner and Loewe's classic musical
I have heard this year, and it couldn't have been more different from the first. The Northern Lights Radio Theater revival
was a cut-down affair, shorn of the songs and reduced to the bare minimum of plot. Shaun Kerrison's production for
the BBC Proms used an orchestra of seventy, under John Wilson's baton, drawing on the orchestrations supervised
by Andre Previn for Warner Brothers' 1964 film version. With a full chorus plus dancers, and a cast led by Anthony Andrews
(Higgins), Annalene Beechey (Eliza), James Fleet (Pickering), and Alun Armstrong (Alfred P. Doolittle), this was a major event,
which according to Wilson (in a pre-production interview) required four weeks rehearsal, just for one performance.
Was the effort worth it? In sonic terms, the John Wilson Orchestra (under Wilson's
baton) filled the Albert Hall with wonderfully lush sounds. Lerner and Loewe's classic score never sounded so melodic,
with a seemingly endless flow of melodies, from the wistful "Wouldn't It Be Luverly," to the joyous "I'm Getting
Married in the Morning," and the misogynistic "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man."
I wasn't quite so sure about the casting. Annalene Beechey was a wonderful Eliza
Doolittle; she got the Cockney accent right, while her transition into a duchess was cleverly handled. She came across as
a strong-willed personality, who in spite of her lack of her education eventually got the measure of Higgins. When she finally
got the better of him in Mrs. Higgins (Sian Phillips') house, she was greeted with a round of applause from the Albert
Hall audience. Phillips' Mrs. Higgins was all commonsenseL thoroughly aware of her son's shortcomings, she knew how to handle
him, as well as making Eliza feel thoroughly wanted. Armstrong's Doolittle was a good-hearted chap who, although purporting
to despise "middle class morality", actively embraced it in the end.
However I found Andrews' Higgins particularly irritating. While possessing
a good singing voice (none of the sprechstimme associated with Rex Harrison here), he had an annoying habit of speaking
his lines in capital letters, rather like a Victorian melodramatic hero. Consequently he came across as a self-interested
personality who relished the idea of dominating the stage (as well as Eliza) and did not care a fig for anyone around him.
Fleet's Colonel Pickering was just colourless.
But these are just personal comments: I relished the idea of My Fair Lady
being chosen for the BBC Proms, and congratulate Wilson and his hardworking players for providing a memorable listening experience.