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'My Fair Lady' and other 2001 Events
Last uploaded : Monday 28th Jan 2002 at 15:11
Contributed by : Carol Gould


News I believe I must qualify for the Guinness Book of Records for having seen all four Eliza Doolittles and both Henry Higginses in the Royal National Theatre’s production of ‘My Fair Lady’ that transferred to Theatre Royal Drury Lane in July 2001.

What puzzles me is the lack of stamina of the women who have shared the stage in less than a year. Being old enough to have had the privilege of having seen Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Barbara Cook (see photograph) and Julie Andrews in the flesh on Broadway, it is astonishing to think that all of the aforementioned divas took very few days off sick. They did not need to ‘reduce the number of performances’ and share each week with an alternate at any time during the runs of the legendary shows in which they starred.

More recently, Reba Mcintyre and Bernadette Peters have become living legends in musicals, whilst one may witness the newest talent of the American musical theatre in the Broadway production of ‘Kiss me Kate’ now in a limited run at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre. The voices and energy of this cast leaves one feeling pumped with adrenaline, whilst watching one of the ‘My Fair Lady’ leading lasses has one on the edge of one’s seat worrying if they will not hit the notes or even faint dead away. (Indeed, when I attended the July opening it was so hot in the un-air conditioned Theatre Royal that one did wonder if the heavily-costumed cast might not expire en masse. )

Shortly after she stepped down from playing the lead in ‘My Fair Lady’ in early November, Martine McCutcheon appeared on the Michael Parkinson talk show on prime time television. In what many people felt was a particularly petulant and really quite uncharitable display, she pouted when asked about her departure from the great show and said that she was not going to ‘name names’ but that several members of the company had not been kind to her. Considering that her most recent bout of illness had come after a week’s break in Majorca, the stress placed on the rest of the cast must have been substantial.

It bordered on the peevish for Miss McCutcheon to complain about her treatment, when in fact her lack of stamina had resulted in constant juggling of understudies – a nervewracking state of affairs in such a large and complicated musical. Whilst the show was still at the National Theatre, Jonathan Pryce told the audience that he had now played Henry Higgins to three different Elizas in two days, and suggested that anyone wishing to audition for the part collect an application form at the stage door.

In the same month in which I saw three Elizas, an enchanted evening was spent being swept away by the glorious voice of Broadway legend Barbara Cook, who is well into her seventies. She performed a medley of Sondheim classics peppered with anecdotes and easy patter. There was no interval, and despite her ample size the incomparable Miss Cook never got out of breath. Sitting in the row in front of me was the wonderful musical actress Thelma Ruby, and after the show we agreed that we had been privileged to have seen a legend – still in her prime. Here was a lady whose understudy would have been suicidal.

Barbara Cook, even in her seventies, could sing any of the Elizas I saw under the table. These phenomenal voices are still being born on Broadway; our British drama schools breed the finest actors in the world, but would do well to develop their musical theatre departments to nurture promising young voices.

Later that week I went to hear Ann Callaway at Pizza on the Park. Halfway through her first set, I noticed a number of familiar West End theatrical faces in the audience. It was only 9:15 and I wondered how these actors had managed to play truant from their respective shows. Ann then announced that there had been a power blackout in the West End and that many performers from Shaftesbury Avenue had come all the way down to Knightsbridge to see her show. To everyone’s astonishment, out of the audience came Barbara Cook, who joined Ann onstage. They performed a set together and it was pure magic.

I could not help feeling remorseful about enjoying such a perfect evening in a famous pizza cafe, when just the day before in Jerusalem, the terrible atrocity of the Sbarro pizzeria bombing had occurred. Nevertheless, fate had found me in London and by lighting a yahrzeit candle when I got home that evening, I felt some sense of connection to the grieving families in Israel.


This year has been a disappointing one for films, but my film of the year is ‘What’s Cooking,’ from Gherinder Chadha, the director of ‘Bhaji on the Beach.’ She has assembled a brilliant cast of actors playing out the drama of American Thanksgiving Day. Four different families – one Jewish, one Latino, one African-American and one Vietnamese – suffer the inevitable arguments, crises and calamities that forever befall meshpuchah on ‘yom tov.’ At times deeply moving – the Vietnamese daughter’s anguish over her parents’ provincial attitudes is searing – and hilarious – Auntie Bea nearly expiring when she is told her niece is a lesbian – the film is an uplifting study of multicultural life that will leave an indelible mark on your soul. It is now available on video. On a cold midwinter’s night it will warm you –and stir up an appetite.

Gherinder Chadha came to BAFTA lastnight and those attending had a preview of excerpts from her newest film, ‘Bend It Like Beckham,’ which also looks like a potential winner, juxtaposing the world of soccer with the aspirations of modern Asian youth clashing with the older generations.

Being a BAFTA member can sometimes be a burden – a basket of tsurris rather than a bushel of nachus. This year’s nominations are not particularly exciting, and I was one who felt ‘Gosford Park’ was a manufactured confection hand-tailored for the non-British market (‘Oh, look, that’s Helen Mirren! Oh, it’s Derek Jacobi! And Dame Maggie Smith! etc etc) It works neither as a thriller nor as a country house saga; I am always alarmed when I forget about a film before I have even left the cinema.

My favourite cultural event of the year was ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ at the Victoria Palace. The cast arrived from New York just a few days after 11th September and their energy, brilliance and total dedication to their craft is a glory to behold. Many years ago I ventured into theatrical production. The young English cast, many of whom I had cast straight from RADA, were obstinate, bad-tempered and – though being paid fine wages – forever whinging. One pursued the production company for years afterwards because he felt he had suffered some sort of injury doing his moves.

Watching the American stars of ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ hurling themselves all over the large set, one could not help thinking of my whinging lot, whom RADA had obviously failed to teach ‘enthusiasm.’

If you see just one show this year, do not miss ‘Kiss Me, Kate.’


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