By Philip Potempa, Northwest Indiana Times
Actress Lisa O’Hare says no one was more surprised than she when Cameron Mackintosh asked her to play the lead in his new Broadway tour of Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady.”
“At the time when he asked me, I was the understudy for the role of Mary Poppins in the London run of ‘Mary Poppins,’ and he happened to catch me at one of the performances when I went on in the title role,” said O’Hare, by telephone last Friday from her hotel suite in Washington, D.C., where the show is finishing up before heading to Chicago. It opens a two-week run Tuesday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
“When I was told that Cameron Mackintosh wanted to see me, I couldn’t believe my ears.”
The very English O’Hare, who hails from just outside London, considers her turn as Eliza Doolittle as the dream of a lifetime.
And this 26-city tour, presented by Mackintosh and the National Theatre of Great Britain, not only marks this production’s American debut, it also marks 24-year-old O’Hare’s first visit to the United States.
Christopher Cazenove, who is considered one of England’s most respected stage and screen actors and best known to U.S. audiences as Ben Carrington on television’s “Dynasty,” stars opposite O’Hare as Prof. Henry Higgins. Both are reprising the same roles they originated on the extended U.K. national tour.
And as a bit of a nostalgic bonus, accomplished theater and film star Marni Nixon, who provided the singing voice of Eliza Doolittle in the classic 1964 film version of “My Fair Lady” (although she was not credited) that starred Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison and Theodore Bikel, will appear in the role of Mrs. Higgins.
Nixon, who will celebrate her 78th birthday next month while on tour, is equally famous for providing the singing voice of Natalie Wood in the 1961 film musical “West Side Story.”
O’Hare said she’s always “been in love” with the musical’s simple Cinderella story: a snobbish and proper English professor makes a bet he can transform an everyday, unrefined flower girl, whose world is the hustle and bustle of sidewalks, into a sophisticated, mannered lady.
“I can remember enjoying the film while growing up and especially loving all of the music,” she said.
“It’s very easy to fall in love with these characters and get caught up in the story.”
The stage version of “My Fair Lady” features the story and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, combined with the music by Frederick Loewe, all of it adapted from Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture.
O’Hare describes the musical as “one of Broadway’s most beloved scores,” especially mentioning her own favorites like “The Rain in Spain,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”
The original production of “My Fair Lady” opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York, on March 15, 1956, where it ran for 2,717 performances, becoming the longest-running musical of its day and still considered one of the top 15 longest-running Broadway musicals of all time.
It won eight 1956 Tony Awards, including best musical. The 1964 film version brought even more worldwide fame after winning eight Academy Awards including best picture.
Despite being wrapped in what she considers her perfect role, O’Hare does admit she misses her home from “across the pond.”
“I’m loving being in the U.S., but I also miss my little apartment back in London and my boyfriend Howard,” said O’Hare in her distinct English accent.
“And I really miss the tea we have in England. I love a certain type of English breakfast tea made by an old company called PG Tips. Once in a while, depending on what city I’m in here in the U.S., I can find it. But mainly, I’ve been having my boyfriend send me the tea.”
O’Hare said this U.S. national tour of “My Fair Lady” brings together the original U.K. artistic team with direction by four-time Tony winner Trevor Nunn, choreography and musical staging by two-time Tony winner Matthew Bourne, production design by Anthony Ward and lighting design by David Hersey.
“Watching this musical is like enjoying a huge picture storybook that comes to life right before the audience’s eyes,” O’Hare said.
“From set and costumes, to the music and songs, it’s mesmerizing.”
And an actress who gained fame from her tour as an understudy, O’Hare made a point to ask that “this story also mention how great the ENTIRE cast is when on stage.”
The cast includes Walter Charles as Col. Hugh Pickering, Alma Cuervo as Mrs. Pearce and Justin Bohon as Freddy Eynsford-Hill. And, at some performances, the role of Eliza will be played by understudy Dana DeLisa, O’Hare noted, with a smile in her voice.
“My Fair Lady”
When: Jan. 22 -Feb 3
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Cost: $25 to $75
FYI: (312) 902-1400 or www.MyFairLadyTheMusical.com or www.broadwayinchicago.com.