There’s something magical about witnessing the triumph of sheer dedication and passion on stage, and City Academy’s production of “My Fair Lady” at Bridewell Theatre effortlessly captured this enchanting essence. This amateur theatre show (directed by Alanna Stone) reminded me of “Mamma Mia: The Movie”: full of humour and heart, even if the songs could sometimes do with a bit more vocal practice. My friend who accompanied me to the show, saw this company’s production for the first time and asked me a good 3 times if this is indeed a cast of amateur actors. She just couldn’t believe it.
“My Fair Lady” is a musical classic, so bringing it to life by the City Academy team was quite an ambitious feat. Last year, the West End revival of this story played to sold-out audiences at the London Coliseum for 16 weeks. And in the original stage version of “My Fair Lady”, the lead role of Eliza created a star out of young Julie Andrews. So, again… this shows has quite large shoes to fill!
Just to quickly give the plot’s overview: set in early 20th-century London, “My Fair Lady” tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a spirited flower girl with a strong Cockney accent. Professor Henry Higgins, a renowned phonetics expert, becomes intrigued by Eliza and makes a wager with his friend Colonel Pickering that he can refine her into a well-mannered lady with impeccable speech.
Through challenging lessons and humorous encounters, Eliza embarks on her transformation and learns to navigate the complexities of high society. However, as she evolves into a refined lady, Eliza finds herself questioning her position in society and her intricate bond with Higgins.
“My Fair Lady” – Transporting the audience to the Edwardian London
This City Academy’s show was staged at Bridewell Theatre (a lovely venue, which actually used to be a Victorian swimming pool in the past), with the balcony on top, and a 3-piece orchestra placed at the back of the stage.
With a minimalistic stage design at first glance, the audience was greeted by a striking contrast of a tiled floor, serving as the canvas for the unfolding story. During the show, the cast smoothly introduced a few stage sets, seamlessly altering the scene. The addition of retro phones and classic phonetics equipment was pleasantly surprising – they looked as if they had been discovered in a hidden corner of a vintage flea market. The attention to detail was impressive, with each scene carefully crafted to capture the ambience of different locations, ranging from Covent Garden to the grandeur of Ascot.
I have to give separate praise to the Head of Costume, Melissa Travers. The vibrant dresses, elegant formal suits, and timeless maid dresses left a lasting impression – my favourite was Eliza’s dark blue ball gown paired with shiny jewellery, simply stunning.
It is worth noting that with a cast of 20, each member underwent at least two costume changes (if I counted well) – all done perfectly on time. However, there was one minor aspect that didn’t quite hit the mark for me—the wig worn by Higgins’ mother appeared noticeably poor quality compared to the overall costumes on stage.
The choreography and stage movement fell a bit short of expectations, leaving some room for improvement. There were instances, such as awkwardly swinging visibly empty wine glasses that didn’t even touch the actor’s lips, or underutilising flowers as props, where the execution felt incomplete.
In a production where flowers hold such significant importance, it would have been more satisfying to see real flowers incorporated. The sight of a couple of plastic flowers in a flower girl’s basket was somewhat disappointing.
Breathing New Life into Iconic Characters
But what truly made this production shine was the exceptional talent of the cast. Deborah Ferro effortlessly captured the nuances of Eliza Doolittle’s character, showcasing her growth from a rough-around-the-edges flower girl to a refined lady. Her vocal prowess and impeccable diction beautifully conveyed Eliza’s journey, allowing the audience to be fully immersed in her transformation. She did amazingly well, especially in the more emotionally-loaded songs of the second act.
The discussions between Drew Sainsbury as Henry Higgins, and Eliza were palpable, injecting both humour and depth into their respective roles. Sainsbury’s portrayal of the obstinate linguistics professor was charismatic and convincingly portrayed his evolution throughout the story.
Meanwhile, Lorenzo Martini as Freddy created a comedic, light performance, that’s also a bit tricky, as it’s easy to slip almost into clowning with this role. But Martini did really well, presenting Freddy’s story with balance, and his scenes of serenades on the street will stay with me for long.
The ensemble cast also deserves accolades for their energetic and synchronised performances. Whether it was the lively street scenes or the exuberant Ascot Racecourse sequence, their infectious energy created a vibrant atmosphere that kept the audience engaged throughout the show.
The 3-piece band put in their best efforts and crafted a commendable soundtrack, considering the circumstances. However, for a spacious stage like Bridewell, a larger and more intricate band would have been more fitting. There were moments, particularly during stage set changes, where a bit more power and energy from the music would have enhanced the overall experience.
If there is one word, to sum up, City Academy’s production of “My Fair Lady,” it would be “inspiring.” This amateur theatre group demonstrated that with passion, commitment, and unwavering love for the craft. The cast and crew of this production deserve applause for their dedication and for bringing a beloved musical to life with such heart and soul.
My Fair Lady, by City Academy Studio Company
22-27 May 2023
Tickets available under this link