Busy producer admits touring ‘My Fair Lady’ close to his heart
By Jan Sjostrom, Palm Beach Daily News
Cameron Mackintosh was 13 when his romance with My Fair Lady began. His parents took him to see the original production in London and he crashed the backstage party.
He and the musical had another fling in 1979, when he revived it on the West End. Alan Jay Lerner, who wrote the show’s book and lyrics, was in the director’s chair.
But the producer still hadn’t had enough of the show — one of his two favorites, along with West Side Story.
In 2001, he re-invented My Fair Lady again. After a brilliant London run, the show toured the British hinterlands to kudos.
Now it’s trekking across the United States and will open Tuesday as part of the Stanford Broadway Across America Palm Beach series at the Kravis Center.
My Fair Lady has been resurrected many times — including three Broadway productions — since its 1956 debut.
But this production is different, Mackintosh said recently from his home in Malta, where he was celebrating his 61st birthday.
“What makes this production successful and special is that it’s the first time since the original creative team was assembled that a great director, choreographer and designer have combined to put on this classic musical,” he said.
Director Trevor Nunn, a former director of Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal National Theatre, has racked up hits such as Cats, Les Miserables and Mackintosh’s revival of Oklahoma.
Choreographer Matthew Bourne caused a sensation with his gay Swan Lake.
Costume and scenic designer Anthony Ward’s credits include Mackintosh’s Oklahoma and many productions for Britain’s top-of-the-line companies.
But Mackintosh said he and his team can’t take all the credit for the revival’s success.
My Fair Lady has been called “the perfect musical” because of its felicitous union of Frederick Loewe’s eclectic, catchy score and Lerner’s virtuosic adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play.
“Like all pieces of classic writing, it never goes out of fashion,” the producer said.
Mackintosh had the benefit of dissecting My Fair Lady with one of its creators during the 1979 revival. His partnership with Lerner kept him from making mistakes he might otherwise have committed, he said.
He’d considered tinkering with the accompaniment to The Rain in Spain, when Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle finally learns how to properly pronounce vowels.
But Lerner explained how the timing of the instruments’ entrances coincided with Eliza’s breakthrough.
“It was all about craft,” Mackintosh said.
There was no further discussion of changing a single note, he said.
Mackintosh also attributes the revival’s success to its accidentally coinciding with the craze for star-search television shows such as American Idol.
No stars glitter in the touring lineup. Although fresh off the British tour of My Fair Lady, Christopher Cazenove, who plays Henry Higgins, and Lisa O’Hare, the show’s Eliza, are virtual unknowns in the United States. Dana DeLisa will play Eliza in some performances.
No suitable big star wanted to play Higgins on a long tour, and the actors who volunteered were either in their 70s or “not particularly British,” Mackintosh said.
The producer said he’s happy with his choice of Cazenove, who is best known to American audiences from his role as Ben Carrington on Dynasty.
“He’s a consummate actor,” Mackintosh said.
As for the young O’Hare, “she’s very special,” he said. “I’ve been grooming her up.”
The actress, who also performed in the London production of Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins, wowed American promoters two years ago at a Live Nation showcase in Miami Beach.
“That’s why the tour came together,” Mackintosh said.
The producer has said Mary Poppins will be his last new musical.
He’s too busy overseeing his seven London theaters, the 25 or so productions of his shows taking place around the globe, and his efforts to cultivate an audience for Western musicals in China, he said.
But as the conversation drew to a close, he added, “As James Bond said, ‘Never say never again.’ “
IF YOU GO
What: ‘My Fair Lady’
When: Tuesday through Nov. 4
Where: Kravis Center
Details: Kravis box office, 832-7469; TicketMaster, 966-3309