Review by Anja Bless
Starring Australian soprano Anna O’Byrne, Becoming Eliza is a one woman show exploring the repertoire of Julie Andrews and the trials of finding yourself in a well-known character. At once deeply personal and a joyful exploration of musical theatre, O’Byrne takes the audience along with her journey of playing Eliza Doolittle under the direction of the most famous of Eliza’s, Dame Julie Andrews.
O’Byrne brings a joyful energy to the production, telling the story of how her shyness as a child gave way by finding joy in her voice, not unlike Eliza Doolittle herself. Her fantasy of working with a West End and Broadway legend was realised in being selected by Julie Andrews to play the lead in the 60th anniversary production of My Fair Lady. It is the process of O’Byrne’s experience in preparing for this role that Becoming Eliza centres around. O’Byrne shares fun and personal anecdotes, stringing together a concert performance of musical theatre favourites that made Julie Andrews a household name.
Directed by Sharon Millerchip, the performance is smoothly and expertly run from start to finish. Tracing the light and shade of theatre and performance, with delightful comedic moments to break up the story and song. O’Byrne is a natural comedian with strong physicality that she brings into both her spoken and vocal performances. Guy Simpson as Musical Director guides O’Byrne and a three piece string ensemble from his piano, giving beautiful depth and support to O’Byrne’s soprano whilst keeping the intimate feel of the performance. O’Byrne’s voice is impressive, it is easy to see what attracted the attention of Dame Andrews. Her soprano is sweet and effortless, but still strong enough to support the bigger numbers. Though not entirely flawless throughout the performance, O’Byrne does well to maintain the quality of her singing through an impressive range of pieces across 70 minutes.
However, at times Becoming Eliza teeters slightly along the line of over-exploiting O’Byrne’s relationship with Dame Andrews. It is difficult to balance the glitter of fame and celebrity whilst still maintaining humility and relatability. Some anecdotes felt a little too self-congratulatory, always a risk in an autobiographical show, and ventured possibly a bit further away from the story of Julie Andrews and her work than the audience may have been expecting. There were also times when O’Byrne was reaching a little too far to link certain songs together, and the energy brought in the first part of the performance was not entirely sustained through the latter half.
Nonetheless, Becoming Eliza is a very enjoyable night out for any musical theatre fan, and also those who may not consider themselves to be one. It is easy to enjoy the vocal performance of such an accomplished performer, and to be taken away through her comedy and storytelling. You’ll be sure to be happily humming “I could have danced all night” as you leave the theatre.