'My Fair Lady' proves critics wrong by paying back investors in 18 weeks

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The Independent Culture

The National Theatre's production of My Fair Lady, which has become best known for the regular absences of its former star, Martine McCutcheon, has broken even just 18 weeks into its West End run.

At a time when most London theatres have suffered a sharp decline in audiences, the show has managed to recoup its costs in record time, according to its co-producer, Sir Cameron Mackintosh. When the show transferred from the National to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, it had already sold £10m in tickets.

My Fair Lady continues to have the largest advance bookings in London and recently set a new box office record by taking £409,000 in one week.

Other successful musicals have taken far longer to go into profit. Oliver!, starring Robert Lindsay, took 35 weeks to recover its costs, Miss Saigon needed 39 weeks to break even, and Phantom of the Opera had to wait 54 weeks.

The success has come despite the regular absences of Martine McCutcheon, who played Eliza Doolittle, through ill health. She has now bowed out of the show.

Nick Allott, the managing director of Sir Cameron's company, said: "We're delighted with how well it has been doing, particularly considering the incredibly difficult time that the West End is going through at the moment, with foot-and-mouth and then the tragic events this September."

Despite the commercial appeal of the show, Trevor Nunn, the National Theatre's artistic director, was widely criticised for his decision to stage the popular musical, which is based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

Sir Cameron invested £2m in the transfer and the original production at the National. A National Theatre spokeswoman said: "Anything we can get from West End transfers is an extremely valuable addition to our funds. But it's not something that you can ever totally rely on."

Mr Nunn's production has proved a critical as well as a popular success.

Alex Jennings, an award-winning classical actor with both the National and the Royal Shakespeare Company, is to take over the role of Professor Higgins when Jonathan Pryce steps down in April. It will be the actor's West End musical debut.