Sunday, 7 April 2019

Andreas Homoki directed a stylish production of Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady, a musical bridging Low Life and High Life, often referred to as ‘The Perfect Musical’

Lerner & Loewe: My Fair Lady - Komische Oper, Berlin (Photo Iko Freese drama-berlin.de)
Lerner & Loewe: My Fair Lady - Komische Oper, Berlin (Photo Iko Freese)
Lerner & Loewe My Fair Lady; Max Hopp, Katharine Mehrling, dir: Andreas Homoki, cond: Peter Christian Feigel; Komische Oper, Berlin Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 2 April 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★)
Defying the generation gap, My Fair Lady proved a winner all the way to the finishing line

Lerner & Loewe: My Fair Lady - Komische Oper, Berlin (Photo Iko Freese drama-berlin.de)
Lerner & Loewe: My Fair Lady Komische Oper, Berlin
(Photo Iko Freese)
Max Hopp - coming fresh from the starring role of Tevje the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof - put in a commanding and athletic performance as the eccentric professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins, in this welcome revival of Komische Oper’s 2015 production of Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady (dubbed ‘The Perfect Musical’) based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, directed by Andreas Homoki, conducted by Peter Christian Feigel, with Katharine Mehrling as Eliza and Jens Larsen as Alfred Doolittle.The German translation for this production was undertaken by Robert Gilbert.

Dressed as a dapper English gentleman sporting a pair of dark horn-rimmed spectacles, Mr Hopp over-exaggerated and awkwardly played the pivotal role of Professor Henry Higgins (of 27a Wimpole Street, Marylebone, central London) to a high comedic level that was light years away from that of Rex Harrison especially in relation to the elocution lessons given to the brassy flower-girl, Eliza Doolittle, vividly (and gushingly) portrayed by Katharine Mehrling, who, incidentally, won the ‘Golden Curtain’ Berlin audience award for her performance.

It’s a gift of a part, though, and Ms Mehrling absolutely revelled in it delving deep into the low-life of Eliza Doolittle’s colourful character to the delight and amusement of a packed house. Right from her opening number with the Covent Garden barrow boys to the eloquence and sophistication of High Society rubbing shoulders with top-hatted toffs at Royal Ascot - a long way off from her humble beginnings - Ms Mehrling excelled in her role and gave old Higgins a good run for his money in more ways than one.

Ascot is always a memorable scene and, of course, one of the biggest (and most explosive) in the show especially when Eliza comes unstuck delivering a mouthful of some unchosen words cheering on her horse while her mount and the rest of the field were heard to good effect racing through the auditorium by a tremendously-effective pre-recorded sound sequence.

Tom Erik Lie as Colonel Pickering (Henry Higgins’ bosom friend and a fellow phoneticist) proved an equal match to Max Hopp. They worked well off each other and in Higgins’ witty number ‘I'm an Ordinary Man’ (concerning not letting a woman in your life) found the deuce quickly embracing each other for a short spin round Higgins’ study before coming to terms with their lack of proprietary!

Jens Larsen as Alfred P Doolittle (Eliza’s well-fed and bullish dustman father) let rip in his big number ‘I’m Getting Married in the Morning’ and while fantasising over his bride to be, a coterie of traditionally-dressed brides appeared from within the phonograph machine sliding rapidly to the stage and joining the rest of the cast in a show-stopping dance routine that left the audience wanting more judging by their jubilant reaction.

The production was thoughtfully and intelligently directed by Andreas Homoki (artistic director of Zurich Opera) and the staging relied heavily on Franck Evin’s lighting and Arturo Gama’s choreography as stage props were minimal confined to just a few historic phonograph recording machines which appeared larger and larger, scene by scene.

Overall, though, it was a well-cast show with fine performances emanating from Susanne Häusler as Mrs Higgins (Henry’s upper-class mother) attired in an elegant two-piece white trouser-suit designed by Mechthild Seipel (who came up with a good wardrobe for the rest of the cast, too) and Christiane Oertel as Mrs Pearce (Higgins’ long-suffering, respectful and dutiful housekeeper) who excelled in her big number ‘The Servants’ Chorus (Poor Professor Higgins)’ aided by a singing and dancing chorus on fine form.

Let’s face it, the show’s packed with a host of good numbers and I was taken by Professor Higgins, Eliza and Colonel Pickering’s rendition of ‘The Rain in Spain’ and Eliza and Mrs Pearce in full voice singing ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ (so could I!) while Adrian Strooper as Freddy Eynsford-Hill (a young socialite and Eliza’s over-eager suitor) offered an adorable rendering of ‘On The Street Where You Live’ delivered as a front-of-stage vaudeville-style act with Mr Strooper sporting a straw-boater, white suit and black tie while Zoltan Fekete as Zoltan Karpathy (Henry Higgins’ former student and rival) proved a bit too much and certainly too hot-blooded for the likes of Eliza.

But unlike Trelawny of the Wells (Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1898 comedy) telling the story of a theatre star who attempts to give up the stage for love but is unable to fit into High Society that beckons her, young Eliza Doolittle found it hard to return to her earthy roots and much favoured High Society that befriended her. But, as with all musical theatre, the energy driving the show comes from the pit and full marks must go to Peter Christian Feigel who drove his charges to some exemplary playing not least by getting the show off to a lively and entertaining start by a sprightly overture but the playing of the ‘Ascot Gavotte’, the ‘Busker Sequence’ and the ‘Embassy Waltz’ hit the mark, too, more than underwriting why My Fair Lady is a winner all the way!

Lerner & Loewe: My Fair Lady - Komische Oper, Berlin (Photo Iko Freese drama-berlin.de)
Lerner & Loewe: My Fair Lady - Komische Oper, Berlin (Photo Iko Freese)
Andreas Homoki (director)
Peter Christian Feigel (conductor)
Arturo Gama (choreographer)
Frank Philipp Schlößmann (set designer)
Mechthild Seipel (costume designer)
Franck Evin (lighting designer)
Johanna Wall (dramaturg)
David Cavelius (chorus master)
Professor Henry Higgins (Max Hopp)
Eliza Doolittle (Katharine Mehrling)
Alfred P Doolittle (Jens Larsen)
Mrs Higgins (Susanne Häusler)
Colonel Pickering (Tom Erik Lie)
Mrs Pearce (Christiane Oertel)
Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Adrian Strooper)
Professor Zoltan Karpaty (Zoltan Fekete)
Lord Boxington (Tim Dietrich)
Lady Boxington (Christina Bütow)
Mrs Eynsford-Hill (Elke Sauermann)
Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin
Chorsolisten der Komischen Oper Berlin
Dancers: Damian Czarnecki, Shane Dickson, Zoltan Fekete, Michael Fernandez, Paul Gerritsen, Hunter Jaques, Christoph Jonas, Csaba Nagy, Marcell Prét, Lorenzo Soragni and Silvano Marraffa (dance captain and swing)

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