When the phonetician Henry Higgins Harry Hadden-Paton slips into the Covent Garden flower market to record the voices of its sellers he cracks that he could make a grubby flower girl sound like a duchess.
The grubby flower girl, Eliza Lauren Ambrosetakes him up on the offer. And in a few months — through bullying and coaxing and rote pronunciation drills — he succeeds.
Before previews began there was some doubt as to whether Lauren Ambrose, best known for her work as a sardonic daughter on Six Feet Under, could handle the vocal duties.
Turns out, Ambrose has a cherry-ripe soprano and if there is any justice those people are now at home eating their sheet music.
Hadden-Paton is allowed to sing a little more of the score than Rex Harrison and he is very much up to the job. Elizas are often barely out of their teens and Higginses are often in their 50s, which makes the mentee-mentor relationship starker and any frisson at least a little creepy.
Here, Hadden-Paton is in mids and Ambrose just a few years older. They are age mates and colleagues, both clever, both attractive, which makes the possibility and impossibility of a romance more poignant. Haden-Paton is a playful and charismatic Higgins.
Sher is no natural comedian; once in a while the pace flags.
But the Ascot number is actually funny, the ball scene is a dazzler, the orchestra is luxuriant and it all goes as smooth as a satin wrap until the end.