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Looking back on the first production of My Fair Lady in 1956, Julie Andrews – the original Eliza Doolittle – remembers the buzz. “There was a kind of sense of excitement about the show, even then, so many people were talking about it,” she said. “But I don’t think anybody could have predicted the actual success that the show was.”
Nor could Andrews have imagined at the time that in 2016 she would be directing the 60th anniversary production of Lerner and Loewe’s hit musical in Sydney. The production will be a recreation of the original, with associates of the original design team coming on board to bring to life sets by Oliver Smith and costumes by Cecil Beaton. Channelling her mentor Moss Hart, who directed the original production, Andrews will also be bringing “one or two extra things” to the show.
Anna O'Byrne sings Wouldn't it be Loverly as Eliza Doolittle
Eliza Doolittle will be sung by Australian star Anna O’Byrne – chosen from more than 250 Eliza’s auditioned. “We have an absolutely spectacular Eliza in our beautiful Anna,” said Andrews. O’Byrne will star alongside UK actor Alex Jennings as Henry Higgins.
For O’Byrne, Eliza is something of a dream role. “I'm really looking forward to the challenge,” she told Limelight. “I think the scene work in the show is just exquisite. I've sung a lot of these songs in concert for a long time, but actually getting to do them in context is so exciting.”
Anna O'Byrne and Alex Jennings as Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, photo © Jeff Busby
What does she think of the character of Eliza? “I think she's a winner, but I also think she's a survivor,” said O’Byrne. “Any situation you put her in she's going to find a way to survive. She’s a person who has come from abject poverty as well. I think it's fascinating – it's a Cinderella story that's not the Cinderella story.”
“Our ensemble's got some extraordinary, amazing Australian performers in it,” she said, “and I'm just pinching myself that it's all happening.”
Reg Livermoore singing Get me to the Church on Time as Alfred P. Doolittle, photo © Jeff Busby
For Andrews, this production is also a chance to pass on some of the things she learned playing Eliza 60 years ago. “It was the greatest learning experience of my life,” she said. “It’s a thrill and a joy and an honour to be asked to direct this beautiful production and, oh I think you will be so thrilled when you see it.”
“I think there are more productions this year, everywhere in the world, than there have ever been,” she said. “Everybody’s celebrating it again, and I think – I’m hoping – this is the definitive 60th anniversary production.”
My Fair Lady opens at the Sydney Opera House September 6