Lisa O'Hare In The Spotlight
In her My Fair Lady role as the transforming Eliza Doolittle, award-winning actress continues to impress
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IF you ask actress Lisa O’Hare, she’ll tell you with enthusiasm that My Fair Lady has a special place in her heart, not only because it launched her career some years ago, but it continues to offer her new opportunities on theater’s international stage.
“I’m so grateful for this piece, and it’s really interesting to come back to it again and reread it and rethink it,” says O’Hare, referring to her role in the Lyric Opera production at Civic Opera House through May 21. “It’s just the most remarkable piece of theater. I learned who I was as an actor working on this show. I think I could do it until I die and never get bored of it.”
Since a 21-year-old O’Hare first starred as Eliza Doolittle in Lerner and Loewe’s Tony Award-winning musical as part of the show’s 2005 tour in the United Kingdom and later as a member of the U.S. tour, the former ballet dancer who attended the Royal Ballet School from ages 11 to 16 has become a noted star on stage and screen, including a starring role in a United Kingdom version of Mary Poppins, which led to TV roles in TNT's The Closer, ABC's Castle and NBC's Undercovers. Along the way, she came back to the stage and was part of the original cast of the Broadway musical hit A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, in which she starred with Bryce Pinkham and who she teams with again after he was cast as Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady.
In the long-awaited Lyric Opera production, O’Hare and Pinkham are joined by cast members Nicholas Le Prevost (Colonel Pickering) and Donald Maxwell (Alfred Doolittle), both making their Lyric debuts. It is the inimitable Richard E. Grant (Logan, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Dr. Who, Jekyll & Hyde) in the popular role as Professor Henry Higgins, the phonetics instructor who believes he can teach Eliza to speak like a proper lady.
The classic My Fair Lady, one of the most beloved musicals of all time, is taken from George Bernard Shaw’s entertaining story that focuses on the transformation of poor, rough-edged flower girl Eliza, who Higgins taught to speak so properly that she was presented as a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party. Unexpectedly, during the process to better herself, a beautiful relationship develops between student and teacher.
The production lost none of its appeal when it was turned into an eight-time Academy Award-winning movie, starring Audrey Hepburn. Over the years, the story has resonated with generation after generation, with observers generally falling in love with the charming characters and the memorable, timeless melodies, including “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “The Rain in Spain,” “Get Me to the Church on Time” and "I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” Further, Chicago's presentation is heightened by the superb talents of director Robert Carsen, choreographer Lynne Page, scenic designer Tim Hatley, and Tony Award-winning (School for Scandal) and three-time Academy Award-winning costume designer Anthony Powell (Travels with My Aunt, Death on the Nile, Tess), who features 285 elaborate outfits in the show, including 87 for the principal actors alone.
The colorful, period-perfect costumes are central in Eliza’s progression from someone who has been described as “a thing of stone,” “a nothingness,” a “guttersnipe” and a “squashed cabbage leaf” to a flawless figure of excellence and elegance.
Since Eliza has been an integral part of O’Hare’s life for so long, the English actress steadily has grown into the role, injecting, at times, her own personality when she feels it enhances the character. That approach, she says, will be no different at Lyric’s Civic Opera House. “I’d like to push the boundaries a bit further this time. [When I was younger], I think I was so overwhelmed by the responsibility of the role and overwhelmed by everyone who was in the role before me,” says the Helen Hayes Award-nominee. “Now, I feel slightly braver, and braver is an important word because I think that is what separates Eliza from most characters. She is just remarkably brave. She longs for more than anything just to be seen as an equal and shown some respect. I think I’ll really strive to be as raw as possible in the beginning so the transformation is that much greater. It’s an honor to be part of My Fair Lady again. I’m super excited!
Tickets for My Fair Lady at Civic Opera House start at $22 and are available at www.lyricopera.org/myfairlady or at 312-827-5600.
In Lyric Opera's My Fair Lady, Lisa O'Hare (as Eliza Doolittle) is joined by Bryce Pinkham (left), Helen Carey, Richard E. Grant and other cast members.
Professor Higgins (Richard E. Grant) and Eliza Doolittle (Lisa O'Hare) go head-to-head (above) while (below) Eliza tries to sell flowers to Colonel Pickering (Nicholas Le Prevost). At bottom, Eliza's transformation is complete. (Photographs by Todd Rosenberg.)