Larger than life and packed with a cast to match, FM Theatre’s production of Lerner and Lowe’s beloved My Fair Lady took centre stage at the Mediterranean Conference Centre. The latest in FM’s string of successful musical theatre productions hooked its audience from the start with its classic tale of rags to riches romance.

Musicals are kind of the marmite of the theatrical world – people seem to either hate them with a spitting passion or love them in all their camp glory. I happen to fall into that latter half. And by ‘fall’ I mean I cartwheel in there and land with jazz hands.

This is why I find it so refreshing to see the sheer amount of work that clearly goes into FM Theatre’s musical efforts, and this shines through from both their creative crew and the performers on stage.

From Romualdo Moretti’s thoughtfully designed sets, to the lively choreography by Emma Loftus, no stone was left unturned. I expect no less from artistic director Denise Mulholland’s keen eye for detail.

The only complaint I really have from a technical aspect is that even from good seats in the Dress Circle, the sheer size of the MCC’s cavernous auditorium makes some of the finer details hard to take in. Luckily, the production was grand enough in its design that this didn’t really detract from the show’s overall charm.

Since we’ve mentioned the sheer size of the venue, it must also be said the it takes a great amount of energy from performers to really fill the space and hold their audience’s attention throughout – and fill it they did.

Choruses don’t get mentioned often enough in reviews, so let’s give a little credit where it’s due, the team work showed by the sizable ensemble playing assorted cockneys, toffs, urchins and Londoners was really impressive.

A definite feather in the cap of vocal coach Cathy Lawlor as well as the show’s sound technicians. It’s hard enough to get a crowd of people to sing crisply enough to be understood in a theatre of this size; to do it in a cockney accent is frankly miraculous.

Taking up the titular role of Eliza Doolittle, Maxine Aquilina steps into a role previously played by legendary actresses like Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn. It’s no small task, yet she had won the audience over practically as soon as she stepped out on stage.

Aquilina has good comic timing and a lovely singing voice, despite some slight breathiness on some of her higher notes. Nevertheless, she won hearts that night and deservedly so.

Flanked by Antony Edridge as condescending professor Henry Higgins and producer-cum-actor Edward Mercieca in a boisterous turn as Colonel Pickering, the trio are always fun to watch.

While scenes and songs between the three of them were always enjoyable, the chemistry between Edridge and Aquilina seemed to fall a little flat, leaving the show’s romantic conclusion feeling somewhat unsatisfactory. While Edridge is wonderful at playing Professor Higgins’s more caustic and delightfully sarcastic moments, he didn’t quite seem to drop that stiff-upper-lip long enough to convince me of the bubbling passion between Higgins and Eliza.

A standout performance of the night certainly comes from Thomas Camilleri as the love-struck Freddie Eynsford-Hill. Wonderful vocal technique and pure charm rolled off the stage during his rendition of the classic On the Street Where You Live.

Rounding out the main cast with a highly enjoyable performance, Alan Paris spends most of his scenes as ne’er-do-well dad Alfred P Doolittle romping around the stage with the ensemble. Without a doubt, they’re some of the liveliest scenes in the entire show.

Overall, My Fair Lady was one of the most enjoyable shows of its kind I’ve seen in Malta over the last few years. With the sweeping score beautifully orchestrated by music director Kris Spiteri, I certainly felt like I could’ve danced all night!

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