My Fair Lady
L to R: Anna O'Byrne (photo by Brian Geach), costume sketch by John David Ridge (Eliza Act 1.4), Julie Andrews.

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The eagerly anticipated 60th anniversary production of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady launches at the Sydney Opera House with a stellar cast.

With several years of meticulous research behind it, this recreation of the original 1956 production is further authenticated under the direction of world renowned stage and screen actress Julie Andrews, the original Eliza Doolittle.

Cast as the leading lady in this production, Australia’s international musical theatre darling Anna O’Byrne (Love Never Dies, The Phantom of the Opera) is absolutely thrilled. When we met soon after the cast announcement in May, Anna was warm, professional, and under no illusions about the immense challenge of the role she was about to undertake.

“I’m still sort of thinking ‘pinch me!’ this is all very surreal,” she said.

However she also alluded to the fact that her training for the role began a long time ago:
“I grew up with the film but we also had the original cast recording with Julie Andrews… My sister played Eliza when she was in high school and I played violin in the orchestra… I’ve grown up knowing the songs and the book of the show very well.”

From the very first auditions for the “mammoth role”, Andrews was present.

“She’s had a lot to say about how she literally learned to do the role… It’s a really big, challenging role so she’s had a lot of wisdom to give about how to pace yourself, and how to sing it. It’s been great, I’ve just been playing sponge,” said Anna.

Putting into words the aura that Julie Andrews exudes was a little less straightforward:
“It’s crazy. She’s the most warm, lovely, beautiful person…what you expect her to be, she is… As well she’s got this classic film star presence about her…”

To see Anna gush over working with Andrews was a delight. It could have been quite easy for her to grow complacent about working with big names; fresh out of graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts she was cast by Andrew Lloyd Webber to create the role of Christine Daáe in Love Never Dies.

“My dad said to me the other day ‘would you ever have imagined that in your life you would have worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Emma Thompson, and Julie Andrews?’ And I was like ‘no’,” she laughed.

In this role O’Byrne is tasked with taking the character of Eliza from her Cockney beginnings through to the eloquent lady that Professor Higgins shapes her into. But she counts the endurance required of the role as one of its biggest challenges:

“I think the stamina of the role is going to be really challenging… The source material is the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, so it’s just the most amazing play [with] a lot of dialogue, and then there’s this just glorious score with five amazing, huge songs for Eliza, some of them are almost operatic arias, they’re very challenging… Then there is the emotional journey that she goes on, there’s going to be some dancing, there’s also the challenge that she’s on stage for quite a lot of the show… When you’re not on stage you’re getting costumes thrown on you…that’s literally your down time.”

Narrowing down her favourite of Eliza’s five major songs was to Anna much like picking her favourite child, as “they all have their own character and their own range and storytelling journey within them”.

“I love singing ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’… but then there’s ‘Just You Wait’, there’s so much amazing storytelling in it that I’m really sinking my teeth into, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Lovely’ has a really amazing dance routine so I’m really looking forward to that…”

To narrow down the best costume she has the opportunity to wear in this production was similarly difficult. Further to the meticulously recreated set designs, copies of the original Edwardian-chic costume designs by Cecil Beaton have been meticulously reconstructed by John David Ridge.

“Let me tell you, I have had really good costumes in my career, but they are exquisite,” she quietly exclaimed.

“It’s going to be beautiful. Julie [Andrews] said that when people saw [My Fair Lady] initially they just lost their minds… but from what I’ve seen so far, I think it’s going to have the same effect on people.”

Joining Anna O’Byrne in the headlining cast for My Fair Lady are acclaimed British performer Alex Jennings as Professor Higgins (a three time Oliver Award-winner), Reg Livermore in the role of Alfred P. Doolittle, Robyn Nevin as Mrs. Higgins, Mark Vincent as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Tony Llewellyn-Jones as Colonel Hugh Pickering and finally Deidre Rubenstein in the role of Mrs. Pearce. (AM)

Until Nov 4, varied performance times. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. From $89.90. Tickets & info: www.myfairladymusical.com.au