IN ONE WORD - 'LOVERLY' By H.G.Kippax. 22nd May 1988. Sydney Morning Herald
This sumptuous revival of one of the most successful of all Broadway musicals 32 years after its first performance makes richly satisfying entertainment. It will, I am sure, be as popular as ever.
I would not rank My Fair Lady with the masterpieces of the genre from Showboat to Westside Story and Sweeney Todd. In its derivative way it is something of a hybrid - a version of the film of the play which gives us the play again, but in simpler terms, and then expands those terms with some of Broadway's wittiest lyrics and one of its most endearing scores.
It is, shall we say, the greatest of the "book musicals". Why not, when the genius behind the book is Bernard Shaw, the greatest comic dramatist of his age? Shaw was at the height of his powers when he wrote Pygmalion just before the First World War. He was in his most puckish and unpredictable period just before the Second World War when he yielded unexpectedly to Pascal's pleading and conceded the suggestion of the conventional happy ending which so many admirers of the play had always wanted.
The musical, naturally, retains this ending exactly as he himself rewrote it, but one of the interesting achievements of Rodney Fisher's alert production is that it elicits from John Waters as Higgins a hero whose male chauvinism is unabashed, unashamed, in fact rather shocking. His performance restores much of the force and logic of the second half of Shaw's comedy after the wager has been won and the point about class and education has been made, and when comedy of ideas transforms itself into another of Shaw's sex-duels.
Not all may like this chauvinistic emphasis. The impish charm of Leslie Howard in the film and the darker magic of Rex Harrison in the musical, masters of self mockery as well as mockery, has accustomed us to Higginses less abrasive as teacher and eventually as pupil than this one. All the same, though charm is lacking, the spanking Shavian force of the original frolic is, for me, adequate compensation.
It makes Higgins more credible as the extraordinary, masterful figure he ought to seem as an almost mythic moulder of humanity. I think Shaw, calling his play Pygmalion, meant by allusion to urge us to look at his hero critically as a superman and not merely accept the role as an outlet for histrionics. Beerbohm Tree, up against the formidable Mrs Patrick Campbell in the first production, must have brought power as well as charm to match her force. And, given the nature of this play, that power must have involved a good deal of what later generations came to call chauvinism.
Another mood of this performance is that John Waters, unlike Rex Harrison in his marvellous Broadway performance, can bring the skills of a trained voice to the role. He deals faithfully with the declamatory technique which Loewe devised for Harrison, but he also coaches Loewe's melodies from hiding. How good they sound. And, incidentally, how good is Waters's diction.
There is much more to praise - for instance, Helen Buday's Eliza. Here we watch a guttersnipe turning into a lark rather than the swan-like Eliza of such as Stella Campbell and Wendy Hiller. But she is a lark most sweetly tuned who can in moments of exasperation (Just You Wait; Show Me) attack with a vigour that is quite startling, and indeed swan-like.
This is a most pleasing performance - amusingly demure where many are cheeky, vulnerable but never fragile, always an essentially Shavian heroine in her self-reliance, and at the end moving in her dignity and eloquence.
Another superbly attacking performance comes from Noel Ferrier. He is not, I had thought, obvious casting as Doolittle, but he carries all before him with almost explosive gusto in the famous set pieces, and he brings to the comic scenes with Higgins expressiveness ripe, rich and rare. You can really believe that the old reprobate is a philosopher. There is a good supporting cast; splendid acrobatics from the dancers in Get Me to the Church; evocative sets and very attractive period costumes - all the fun and glitter of the fair subdued to Rodney Fisher's impeccable sense of style.
In a word - "loverly".
CALM WATERS By JANISE BEAUMONT. 23rd April 1988 Sun Herald
John Waters, who has as many female admirers as a pop star, is not all that thrilled about being seen as a man with power over women. "I'd rather be considered attractive than ugly - but I'm not conscious of what you're saying unless I happen to read about it. I think if I didn't do this for a living I would have been out there fighting for the girls like everyone else."
He's a cerebral kind of chap, so one felt a bit of a dill broaching an un-weighty subject like sex appeal; but it could not be avoided, given the loveliness of the Waters face and what it seems to do to his large band of fans. (A lot of young mothers credit him with helping them survive their children's toddler stage, when they were trapped at home and he was the handsome Play School host.)
Waters opens on May 21 in My Fair Lady as Professor Higgins - the famous fictional man who had power over women. Well, over one at least - the keen-to-be-moulded Eliza Doolittle, who soon falls in love with him. "He's quite a uniquely written character. On the page he's a bombastic, over-bearing, chauvinistic horror, but in the playing he turns out to have enormous charm. He is such a single-minded person - his sole passion is the science of speech. When you play him like that, the dismissive remarks aren't offensive."
"He's amazed when Eliza explodes after the embassy ball and says he hasn't been paying her enough attention - but he hasn't been aware of the process of falling in love. He honestly hasn't considered it. And when he does realise it, the best he can do is to sing I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face - that's Higginsese for I'm falling in love with you. He really is an out and out chauvinist. He doesn't even consider women as intellects - he hasn't stopped to think about it and he doesn't want to be bothered. He sings about never letting one into his life and another: Why Can't A Woman Be More Like A Man?"
He reeled off a few of the lines with apologies to Women's Electoral Lobby ... "Why is thinking something women never do?" and "Straightening up their hair is all they ever do".
We automatically picture the older Rex Harrison in the role, but in fact Shaw had Eliza as 18 and the professor 20 years older - so Waters at 41 is just right. His own English upbringing turned out someone with attitudes light years away from those of the pedantic prof. "I don't agree with the Greek myth that inspired Pygmalion - I don't have that desire to create something so perfect that I'm tied to it."
John has an 80s (1980s that is) approach to love. "You grow together when you have a relationship. I like the way women are today, say compared to the'60s when I entered adulthood; they tend to be better company than men - not as guarded. I like the fact that they don't have to defer to me - I don't ever want to be deferred to. It's not a comfortable position to be in. "And I prefer the ones who don't have to shout about the fact that they are equal."
He was quick to defend the need for the feminist movement, but is bored with participants who are totally humourless.
"For instance: lately there has been a spate of letters to the papers about the Avis ad where the girl's skirt blows up. Sure it's sexist, but who cares?It's not important and it's much nicer to look at than a man's trousers falling down."
We were sitting in the foyer of the Inter-Continental, with its atrium roof that goes up several floors, thus creating acoustic problems. In short: you needed to shout in order to have a conversation. Next thing a large group of businessmen wearing name tags spilled out on to the balcony above for morning tea and the problem worsened dramatically - just as John got on to his upbringing.
An upbringing which explains why he values women and family life (he is married and has two teenage children).
With a certain strain on both sides it was possible to establish that his early home life was the antithesis of "Me Tarzan You Jane". "My father was an actor and a very enlightened fellow. I learnt my attitudes from him. He kissed me on the lips until he died only five years ago. And I can remember my mother always blowing kisses down the phone. There were five kids and it was very warm and loving."
That actor father had a nasty habit of embarrassing young John's school friends. "If they came home he would make them stand up on a chair and sing a song. Good days then, but better days now, Definitely. You have to believe in a forward continuum. My boyhood hero was Jimmy Greaves the Chelsea Soccer player, but I don't say that (present-day player with Spanish sounding name - couldn't quite hear it) isn't as good as Greaves just because Greaves played back then."
John Waters is working more and better than ever. Recently we've seen him in the Nancy Wake mini series as her dashing husband Henri, in last Sunday night's sensitive telemovie Captain Johnno; while Boulevarde of Broken Dreams, the film in which he has the lead is just about ready for American cinema release; and he has not long completed the film Bodily Harm. And there are still those Play School repeats!
Nancy Wake: a noisy, brave, self-assured woman married Henri, who was not threatened by her. John was comfortable with that: "That was what I liked about Henri - back in the 30s he appreciated that she spoke her mind. He was very gentle and whenever she started spitting tacks, he would just step back and listen."
I asked what kind of movie he would most like to do if some rich producer rang and posed the same question: "Probably light comedy." With a romance woven in? "Oh yes." And would he get the girl in the end?
"Doesn't matter," he smiled. "It's not real life."
'ENRY 'IGGINS LIVES AGAIN By: PAUL McGILLICK. 2nd June 1988. Australian Financial Review
This musical about the uncouth Cockney flowergirl transformed into a beautifully spoken beauty by an eccentric professor of linguistics is a classic.
It is more than 30 years since it opened on Broadway. It is more than 70 years since the premiere of George Bernard Shaw's original play, Pygmalion, and an incalculable number of years since the creation of the Greek myth of the beautiful Galathea.
Like many classics, most people know about it but few have actually seen it. In this case, we may know the film, but have never seen this very theatrical musical where it looks best - on the stage.
We should be grateful to the VSO for this revival because it is a thoroughly enjoyable entertainment, now on the second leg of a three-stop national tour. Despite the mix of acting, singing, and dancing, the show maintains a high standard in all three departments. And, despite being close to three hours in running time, it has the energy to carry its audience all the way.
Of course, this is a revival in more than one sense. Director Rodney Fisher and the VSO have chosen to approximate the stage and film originals in all respects, from performances through design, to choreography. So our pleasure is in the recognition of the familiar.
John Waters is just like Rex Harrison. Helen Buday even looks like Audrey Hepburn.
The costumes are right out of Cecil Beaton and Anne Fraser's sets are so scrupulously realistic that you can almost read the titles of the books on Higgins' bookshelves. As a classic, My Fair Lady cries out for fresh interpretation. And it's not as though it doesn't have the substance to sustain this kind of treatment. After all, Greek myths don't endure thousands of years without retaining some powerful meaning. And Shaw's play - which it closely follows - has some serious points to make, even if they are made with great wit.
But Fisher's production has few ambitions beyond entertainment. The problematic nature of female-male relations remains unexplored. The intriguing relationship between the main plot and the Doolittle sub-plot is also ignored. Isn't it interesting the way the civilised Higgins behaves like a Barbarian while the apparently crude Doolittle possesses genuine humanity?
Yet there are at least two performances which go a long way towards making up for interpretative deficiencies. After an oddly lacklustre opening scene, Noel Ferrier bursts on stage as Alfred Doolittle to lift the energy level. Ferrier makes the whole stage his domain with wonderful performance skills. Equally fabulous, if far more subtle, is Helen Buday's version of Eliza.
Not quite disgusting enough at the start to make her later transformation as amazing as it should be, Buday nonetheless gives the character great depth. This is the benefit of casting a real actress in the role, not just an entertainer. Fortunately, Buday also has the musical training to make her performance thoroughly accomplished. She is funny, touching, angry and stylish.
But why is John Waters so bland as Higgins? This man has passion. There should be fireworks when he and Eliza are in the same room - not to mention the suppressed sexuality. It doesn't happen.
So, the show doesn't always fire on all cylinders.