Arts

My Fair Lady to bloom again at Theatre at The Mill

My Fair Lady, the much-loved tale of a flower seller who gets elocution lessons from an arrogant phonetics scholar in order to talk like a lady, returns to the stage next week. Director and star Kerry Rooney tells Joanne Sweeney why it's his favourite musical

Kerry Rooney and Aideen Fox as Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady Picture: Bernie McAllister
Joanne Sweeney

IT'S nearly 10 years since the rags-to-riches musical My Fair Lady was performed in the north but that notable absence will be remedied when Kaleidoscope brings its production to the stage next week.

Regarded by many as one of the greatest musicals, the story was made famous by the Oscar-winning 1964 film starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, though it is an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion, which is itself a tale borrowed from classic Greek mythology.

It tells the heart-warming tale of cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle – played by Aideen Fox in the upcoming production at the Theatre At The Mill, Newtownabbey – who dreams of one day working in a 'proper' flower shop, and her unlikely relationship with the arrogant and overbearing Professor Henry Higgins – Kerry Rooney – who aims to turn her into a lady by teaching her to talk like one.

Kerry, who's artistic director of Kaleidoscope and also directs the musical, believes that Aideen Fox, a 22-year-old Queen’s University student from Co Tyrone, is the consummate musical theatre star.

“I am thrilled to be working with Aideen again; she is such a talented performer," says Kerry. The Rooney and Fox duo wowed audiences earlier this year at the Grand Opera House when they starred in the lead roles in Me and My Girl for the St Agnes Choral Society.

"The role of Eliza is perfect for her as it gives her a chance to show off her incredible voice with wonderful songs like Wouldn’t It Be Loverly and I Could Have Danced all Night but it also gives her a chance to demonstrate her marvellous ability as an actress.”

"When we were doing Me And My Girl, I knew this production was coming up and thought Aideen would make a fabulous Eliza as just hearing her sing gives me shivers."

There is renewed interest in staging My Fair Lady now the musical can be performed again following a dispute over ownership after the deaths of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, who wrote the music and lyrics for the original Broadway hit in 1956.

For Kerry, staging it is something of a personal ambition.

"I've been involved in musicals for years but My Fair Lady has been the one that I've always wanted to do," he says. "I've wanted to play Henry Higgins for a very long time, so it's very exciting for me and thrilled to be getting the chance now,"

"As a young guy I never wanted to sit down and watch a musical; I was more into films like Rambo. But one Sunday afternoon as I lay on the sofa as I was feeling sick I watched the movie and was totally mesmerised by it.

"The characters were so engaging and I was carried away by it. It's something that I never would have watched under normal circumstances and it was the first musical I ever watched and it just stuck in my brain.

"My Fair Lady is a timeless classic; it’s a story that never grows old. Audiences love it, and I was keen to bring it back to the stage to give people a chance to enjoy it once more and also to give new audiences a chance to fall in love with it.”

The Belfast thespian is originally from Newry and was awarded a MBE earlier this year for services to older people and drama.

He's also manager of Belfast Culture Night, having taken over from Adam Turkington earlier this year. He'll start planning for the 10th anniversary event next summer.

:: My Fair Lady, Theatre at The Mill, Newtownabbey, from November 21. Tickets available from the box office or theatreatthemill.com

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Arts