The ‘My Fair Lady’ cast on finding a fresh take with Bartlett Sher
“People may say 'What’s the point in bringing My Fair Lady back?',” observed Stephen K. Amos at a recent My Fair Lady press event. And it’s a worthwhile question to ask. With plenty of potential West End musicals fighting for the few available theatres, should older shows make way for newer stories on stage?
But this My Fair Lady isn’t dated. Instead, My Fair Lady in London rips up the textbook and revises the narrative for a 21st-century audience. Bartlett Sher’s revival earned 10 Tony Award nominations in 2018, and now the visionary production plays at the London Coliseum this summer.
Three of the My Fair Lady cast, Maureen Beattie, Sharif Afifi and Stephen K. Amos – who play, respsectively, Mrs. Pearce, Freddy Eynsford-Hill and Alfred P Doolittle – discuss what it means to work with Bartlett Sher as part of this exciting company. There’s even a trip down memory lane!
My Fair Lady is at the London Coliseum.
Maureen and Stephen, My Fair Lady marks your West End musical debut. What drew you to this show?
Maureen Beattie: The character of Mrs Pearce, believe it or not! When I first started in the business, I was 20, but because of a series of circumstances, I played Mrs Pearce at the age of 20 with a grey wig. It must have been horrific, but I did it! So I’ve always thought I’d like to have a go at it now I’m nearer the appropriate age. Mrs. Pearce is just such a kickass, as Bartlett Sher says.
That, [and] the fact it’d be at the Coliseum with a 35-piece orchestra playing behind us. My Fair Lady is one of the greatest musicals ever written. I watched parts of it on Zoom from Broadway and I just went, "I want to be part of that". It was a no-brainer for me!
Stephen K. Amos: It’s a classic piece, but what drew me in was Bartlett Sher and his reputation. I just thought "What is he going to do with this?". People may say “What’s the point in bringing My Fair Lady back?”, but as Maureen mentioned, the subject manner is relevant today, we honour more of the text and in this man’s hands, I mean wow! Who says no to that?
What makes this My Fair Lady different to others?
Sharif Afifi: [Bartlett Sher] has really gone back to the material. The material is so rich, so layered, and based on a brilliant play. The themes in it are so pertinent still that what’s great is we’re letting those lift and permeate through.
It’s really exciting when you have a classic piece people are fond of to go back to that. The reason why things become classic is normally because of the original fondness in the first place.
They then stay in people’s imagination as something else and what’s always great is if you put it on again, to come back to that and ask "Why was the musical brilliant in the first place? Why do we love this?"
There’s a reason why it became brilliant and the contemporary themes are still living inside of it. We’re being pushed towards that in our direction so that’ll make it exciting.
Maureen: We’ve been drawn by Bart away from fluffy bunny stuff. It’s still witty, still funny, and all the lighthearted bits are still there, but actually what you also get parallel is the darker side of these characters.
It comes out of the need to survive in a difficult world and that really makes it so much more interesting rather than waiting to get to the next great number. We get to watch the characters develop and move through the world.
Stephen: It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing it as it’s been done before. But to go back to the material, let that breathe – that’s the joy of what we’re all finding.
From what I saw in this rehearsal, My Fair Lady is set to take over the London Coliseum. What’s it like working with this company?
Sharif: The company are such wonderful people as well, so it’s just a joy. It’s an absolute joy.
Maureen: It’s literally sitting in the middle of this talent, the sound and the dancing, and knowing the future of the business is OK. It’s fantastic! I wake up every morning with a smile on my face.
Stephen: When you look at our ensemble, they’re young people, and this musical was last in town 21 years ago. They were babies. The passion and energy they bring is inspiring. When I’m on stage, I’m lifted by them and I don’t want to let anyone down.
Photo credit: Stephen K. Amos, Sharif Afifi and Maureen Beattie (Photos by Marc Brenner)
Originally published on