My Fair Lady

Missing image
The original poster for the Broadway production of the show designed by Al Hirschfeld

My Fair Lady is a 1956 musical theater production with lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederic Loewe, adapted from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. It was also made into a film by Warner Bros. in 1964

The stage musical first opened on March 15, 1956 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York City. It ran for 2717 performances, a Broadway record at the time.

It opened in London on 30th April 1958 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and ran for 2281 performances.

Moss Hart directed the musical, Cecil Beaton designed the costumes, and Hanya Holm choreographed. The original Playbill and original cast album included art by Al Hirschfeld, which depicted Eliza Doolittle as a marionette being manipulated by Henry Higgins, whose own strings are being pulled by a heavenly puppeteer who looks like George Bernard Shaw.


The songs

  • "Why Can't the English?"
  • "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?"
  • "With a Little Bit of Luck"
  • "I'm an Ordinary Man"
  • "The Servants' Chorus"
  • "Just You Wait"
  • "The Rain in Spain"
  • "I Could Have Danced All Night"
  • "Ascot Gavotte"
  • "On the Street Where You Live"
  • "You Did It"
  • "Show Me"
  • "Get Me to the Church On Time"
  • "A Hymn to Him"
  • "Without You"
  • "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face"

The plot

Henry Higgins, an arrogant, irascible professor of phonetics, finds an impoverished young woman, Eliza Doolittle, selling flowers, and boasts to a new acquaintance, Colonel Pickering, that he can train her to speak so "properly" that he could pass her off as a duchess. Eliza finds her way to the professor's house and offers to pay the professor to give her elocution lessons so that she can get a better job. A wager is made with Colonel Pickering that Higgins cannot achieve this and he takes her on as a challenge of his skills free of charge.

Eliza's father, a dustman, arrives weeks later to reclaim his daughter, or at least some compensation for her loss and is paid off. Higgins is impressed by the man's genuineness and natural gift for language, contrasting with his total lack of moral values ("Can't afford 'em!")

At first Eliza makes no progress but just as she thinks the idea is hopeless she tries one more time, suddenly "gets it", and begins to talk with an impeccable upper class English accent. Higgins takes her on her first public appearance at Ascot Racecourse where she makes a good impression with her polite manners only to shock everyone by a sudden and vulgar lapse into cockney. Higgins, who dislikes the pretentiousness of these upper class people, partly conceals a grin behind his hand, as if to convey the message to the audience, "I wish I had said that!"

The bet depends on Eliza passing as a gentlewoman at the 'embassy ball', which she does successfully despite the presence of a Hungarian phonetics expert at the ball who is completely taken in. Higgins' ungrateful treatment of her after this success leads Eliza to walk out on him, leaving the seemingly clueless Higgins mystified by her ungratefulness.

The ending of the musical was subtly changed from that of the play, in order to please audiences by a suggestion of budding romance between Eliza and Higgins.

A contemporary version of the Pygmalion motif can be found in Willy Russell's play Educating Rita (1980).

The Broadway cast

Harrison and Holloway reprised their roles in the film version, while Andrews was replaced by Audrey Hepburn and Robert Coote by Wilfrid Hyde-White.

The film

The stage musical was later made into a musical film, released in 1964 by Warner Bros.. The film was directed by George Cukor, and starred Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway. It won Cukor an Academy Award for Directing, and ranked #91 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years, 100 Movies.

The lead role in the film was originally intended for Julie Andrews, who played Eliza in the stage version. Hepburn was cast, despite lobbying from Lerner, because Warner Brothers didn't want to cast a stage actress. Opera singer Marni Nixon was cast to dub Hepburn's songs. Julie Andrews in fact became a screen star in her own right that same year in Mary Poppins. The controversy over the casting damaged Hepburn's career, painting her in a negative light (although Elizabeth Taylor reportedly fought long and hard for the role as well). Andrews' subsequent Academy Award nomination for Mary Poppins, which she won - and lack of a nomination for Hepburn - was seen by many as vindication for Julie Andrews, though both actresses denied that there was ever any animosity between them. Film of some of Hepburn's original vocal performances for the film was released in the 1990s, and many fans of the actress believe that it was unnecessary for her voice to be dubbed. At the very least, she could actually sing, in contrast to Harrison, whose songs were mostly recitative.

The film's copyright is owned by CBS, as the head of that company put up the money for the original Broadway production in exchange for the rights to the cast album (through Columbia Records). When Warners bought the film rights for the then-unprecedented sum of $5 million, it was agreed that the rights to the film would revert to CBS seven years after its release. In the 1990s, the original film elements had fallen into disrepair from heavy printing and were feared in danger of total deterioration. Film restorers Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz were brought in to physically restore the film. Their work was a success, preserving this well-loved film for future generations, and a 30th anniversary re-issue in 1994 reinforced the film's popularity.

External links

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