TWO of York's most familiar actors on the musical theatre stage, Rory Mulvihill and Toni Feetenby, have been picked to lead the company in Pick Me Up Theatre's staging of "the perfect musical", My Fair Lady, at the Grand Opera House, York.

From Monday, Rory will play the irascible phonetics professor Professor Higgins, just as he did nine years ago for the York Light Opera Company at York Theatre Royal, while Toni will return to the role of feisty Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle for a third time, her first and latest appearance divided by no fewer than 22 years.

"I've now played Eliza at 15, 22 and 38," says Toni, the head of drama at Manor CE Academy in York. "I first did it when I was at Canon Lee School, then for York Musical Theatre Company in 2002 and now I'm reviving her at 38! Apparently Mrs Patrick Campbell was 50 when she did it, so actually I'm quite young!"

The chance to perform as Eliza once more emerged after an impromptu chat with Pick Me Up artistic director Robert Readman. "I went to see Gypsy and Robert was there," recalls Toni. "I'd had a couple of glasses of wine, and suddenly I said, 'I think I have another Eliza in me'. I was just checking it out, but he said, 'Come along to the auditions', but I chickened out of the first one.

"Luckily, there was a another one the next Sunday, though I walked in to hear a young girl singing so beautifully! But as soon as I did some lines with Rory, that was it. We clicked.

"Even then, I left the audition expecting to get one of the other roles but Robert sent me a lovely text saying, 'Eliza's back'." Rory, in turn, had received one saying, "Welcome to the cast" for his Pick Me Up debut.

"Having played Higgins once, the opportunity to do it again was too good to resist," he says. "Robert didn't ask me to audition. I pushed him to consider me and he did."

York Press:

Mark Hird as Colonel Pickering, left, Susannah Baines as Mrs Eynsford-Hill, Sam Hird as Freddie Eynsford-Hill, Toni Feetenby as Eliza Doolittle, Rory Mulverhill as Professor Higgins and Barbara Johnson as Mrs Higgins in Pick Me Up Theatre's My Fair Lady

And so these two leading lights of the York stage unite, having ploughed separate theatrical furrows, loyal to a particular company. "I was always York Light Opera," says Rory. "And I was always York Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society," says Toni, who has more recently appeared in Pick Me Up's Betty Blue Eyes and Into The Woods.

Based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, with a witty book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, My Fair Lady is built around Higgins taking a bet that, with work on her speech and manners, he can pass off Miss Doolittle as a duchess. Not surprisingly, Rory is hugely enjoying his second stretch as Higgins. "For me, I'm getting an awful lot more out of it this time, and because I've done it once, I find that I'm picking up where I left off, and where there were things that I wasn't happy with, now I am happy with it," he says.

Toni is exploring new possibilities in Eliza being an older woman. "I'm now playing her at an age where probably marriage has passed her by and having children has passed her by, and so this is the last chance to do something for herself, to improve herself," she says. "It also adds to her passion for what Higgins wants her to achieve. I feel more comfortable playing Eliza at this age than when I was younger. I feel I 'get' her more."

Likewise, Rory believes there is value in playing an older Higgins than previously. "Higgins is a confirmed old bachelor and it's difficult for a younger actor to play an older role because they haven't experienced things, though if you're older, playing a younger man, you can use that experience!" he says.

Joining Mulvihill and Feetenby in Readman's York company will be a strong supporting cast of Mark Hird as Colonel Pickering, Andy Stone as Alfred Doolittle, Sam Hird as lovelorn Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Susannah Baines as Freddy's snooty mother, Sandy Nicholson as Mrs Pearce and Barbara Johnson as Mrs Higgins. Wouldn't it be loverly to join them at next week's shows.

Pick Me Up Theatre presents My Fair Lady, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm, Tuesday and Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at