Veteran actress Sally Ann Howes takes on her second 'My Fair Lady' role
By FIONA SOLTES
For The Tennessean
Amid the anticipation, there also was a little nervousness. What would Sally Ann Howes be like? Would the veteran British star of stage, screen and television be intimidating? Bossy? Would she try to draw attention to the way things "used" to be done when she played Eliza Doolittle herself some 50 years ago?
"Now, that would be considered extremely bad manners," says Howes, who plays the witty Mrs. Higgins. "I don't think one ever does that. No, when one is an actor, you go in and you're all pretty well equal, all working toward the common goal of making it an enjoyable evening. You're all in it together."
Granted, Howes has been "in it" long enough to be considered the, ahem, "aunt" of the recent tour of Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady. But she's also garnered a reputation as being gracious, lovely, complimentary and "simply marvelous," says associate producer Thomas Schonberg.
"I do think people were intimidated at first," Schonberg says. "She had this reputation preceding her and had been in movies since the '40s. So yes, we were star struck. But we all realized very quickly that she was an approachable, funny lady who was there to enjoy herself. And I don't think she's regretted her decision to join the show for one second."
That doesn't mean, however, that her decision was an easy one. It wasn't — and it wasn't the first time, either, when she was approached to take over Julie Andrews' lead role in the 1950s Broadway cast. Back then, she was asked three times before accepting.
"What people don't understand is that I was extremely established in England by then," she says. "I had starred in five West End shows, and I wasn't that keen to rush in and take over from someone else. The show wasn't quite the enormous classic it has turned out to be, and at that time, I was doing all kinds of different plays and things. In the scheme of things, it wasn't such a big deal, though it sounds peculiar."
She met and fell in love with American, Tony Award-winning composer Richard Adler, however, so the move to the States eventually became more appealing.
As for the more recent tour, it took a few discussions with her current husband, some maneuverings in her still-busy schedule and thoughts on the practicality of being almost 80 and being on the road for 18 weeks.
"But I must say, I am having more fun than I've probably ever had in my life," she says. "It's been a really incredible choice. The company is made up of tremendously talented individuals, and they're all a good deal younger. They're always coming up and asking stories about Truly Scrumptious (her character in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and looking me up on Wikipedia and coming up with things I've forgotten myself."
Howes says she doesn't wish for a minute she was still playing Eliza rather than Mrs. Higgins, a role that offers her some "zinging scenes." Lest anyone be concerned she's bothered by reaching "that age" to play the part, Howes responds with a quick laugh.
"I'm not exactly unaware I'm 77," she says. "My goodness, your whole life changes. I have grandchildren. I can't think of myself as somebody who any minute now could be playing a woman 40 years old."