Becoming Eliza (Sydney Opera House, Enda Markey Presents)
The first time Anna O’Byrne participated in a production of the musical my lovely lady, she played the violin in the school orchestra, while her older sister Katie took the stage in the lead role of Eliza Doolittle. O’Byrne was terribly shy at the time, so she hid in the corner of the violin section, where she could “hide in the music”.
This is where O’Byrne begins his new solo show Become Elisain which she retraces her journey of auditioning for the role in Opera Australia’s 60th anniversary production in 2016, finally landing it several months after initially being told she had not been cast, and rehearsing it under the direction of Dame Julie Andrews, the original Elisa.
Produced by the Sydney Opera House in association with Enda Markey Presents, it is an intimate performance, in which O’Byrne skillfully recounts her experience, revealing personal doubts, fears, revelations, joys and insights. In an interview with limelightshe explained that during rehearsals she scribbled notes in the margin of her script so as not to forget what had happened, and that the idea of Become Elisa took root from that.
Although this is the backbone of the show, it branches out to discuss various ideas relating to her journey. She talks about her shyness and how she likes to “hide in plain sight” when playing a character, what it was like to “live with” Eliza for two and a half years, and her fascination with how a fictional character can have such an impact. about you (Eliza, she says, “made me more feminist”).
It traces the history of the Greek myth of Pygmalion and its various incarnations over the years from the 1871 play by WS Gilbert. Pygmalion and Galatea to George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion to Lerner and Loewe’s musical my lovely lady (with details on how the musical got its name).
She discusses life in London and her acute awareness of class differences there, and how Eliza’s single-minded determination to better her situation still feels relevant in her reflection on class, gender and gender. overcoming adversity.
O’Byrne has a natural poise and beautiful turn of phrase – the way she portrays a beaming Dame Julie as if she had her own personal spotlight, for example.
She’s very honest about her struggle to nail the Ascot stage and uses Michelangelo’s quote, “I saw the angel in marble and carved until I set him free” , to explain how she realized she had to break free from everything. the voices in his head – including Dame Julie’s – to release his own (Helpmann Award-winning) version of Eliza.
The show uses well-chosen songs, either sung in the past by Julie Andrews or taken from musicals she was associated with, including Burlington Bertie, wouldn’t it be in lovethe euphoric I could have danced all night, Suffragette Sister of Mary Poppins and Resolutely modern Millieamong others.
Faced with her disappointment when told that she didn’t land the role of Eliza, O’Byrne sings a moving version of Smile every rainy dayand she concludes with my boatwhich she tells us is one of Dame Julie’s favorite songs.
O’Byrne has a bright, silvery soprano and a beautifully modulated voice with warm vowels and crisp consonants not too dissimilar to Dame Julie herself, whose voice she captures convincingly.
Directed by Sharon Millerchip, the show is well paced with a fine balance of vulnerability, soft theater and vocal virtuosity, and O’Byrne – dressed in an eloquent cornflower blue pantsuit – wins us over with her warm, welcoming presence and his honesty.
She is beautifully backed by musical director Guy Simpson on keyboards and a string trio. (Simpson happened to be the musical director of OA’s my lovely lady was therefore directly involved in O’Byrne’s journey).
Run 70 minutes without intermission, Become Elisa is a satisfying little “love” show.