My Fair Lady is a musical based upon George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins, a phoneticist, so she can pass as a proper lady.
The musical's 1956 Broadway production was a hit, setting what was then the record for the longest run of any major musical theater production in history. It was followed by a hit London production, a popular film version, and numerous revivals. It has been called "the perfect musical".
In the mid-1930s, film producer Gabriel Pascal acquired the rights to produce film versions of several of George Bernard Shaw's plays, Pygmalion among them. However, Shaw, having had a bad experience with The Chocolate Soldier, a Viennese operetta based on his play Arms and the Man, refused permission for Pygmalion to be adapted into a musical. After Shaw died in 1950, Pascal asked lyricist Alan Jay Lerner to write the musical adaptation. Lerner agreed. Lerner and his partner Frederick Loewe began work, but they quickly realized the play violated several key rules for constructing a musical: the main story was not a love story, there was no subplot or secondary love story, and there was no place for an ensemble. Many people, including Oscar Hammerstein II, who, with Richard Rodgers, had also tried his hand at adapting Pygmalion into a musical and had given up, told Lerner that converting the play to a musical was impossible, so he and Loewe abandoned the project for two years. During this time, the collaborators separated, and Gabriel Pascal died. Lerner had been trying to musicalize Lil' Abner when he read Pascal's obituary and found himself thinking about Pygmalion again. When he and Loewe reunited, everything seemed to fall into place. All the insurmountable obstacles that stood in their way two years earlier disappeared when the team realized that the play needed few changes, and according to Lerner, "All we had to do was add what Shaw had happening offstage". They then excitedly began writing the show.
However, Chase Manhattan Bank was in charge of Pascal's estate, and the musical rights to Pygmalion were sought both by Lerner and Loewe and by MGM, whose executives called Lerner to discourage him from challenging the studio. Loewe famously said to him, "We will write the show without the rights, and when the time comes for them to decide who is to get them, we will be so far ahead of everyone else that they will be forced to give them to us". For five months Lerner and Loewe wrote, hired technical designers, and made casting decisions. The bank, in the end, granted them the musical rights.
Noël Coward was the first to be offered the role of Henry Higgins but turned it down, suggesting the producers cast Rex Harrison instead. After much deliberation, Harrison agreed to accept the part. Mary Martin was an early choice for the role of Eliza Doolittle, but declined the role. Young actress Julie Andrews was "discovered" and cast as Eliza Doolittle after the show's creative team went to see her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend. Moss Hart agreed to direct after hearing only two songs. The experienced orchestrators Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang were entrusted with the arrangements and the show quickly went into rehearsal.
The musical's script used several scenes that Shaw had written especially for the 1938 film version of Pygmalion, including the Embassy Ball sequence and the final scene of the 1938 film rather than the ending for Shaw's original play. The montage showing Eliza's lessons was also expanded, combining both Lerner and Shaw's dialogue.
The show's title relates to one of Shaw's provisional titles for Pygmalion — Fair Eliza. Other titles considered included "Come to the Ball" and "Lady Liza", but everyone agreed that a marquee reading "Rex Harrison in 'Lady Liza'" would be imprudent. So they took the title they disliked least — "My Fair Lady" (an allusion to the nursery rhyme "London Bridge Is Falling Down"). The original Playbill and cast recording sleeve featured artwork by Al Hirschfeld, who depicted Eliza as a marionette being manipulated by Henry Higgins, whose own strings are being pulled by a heavenly puppeteer resembling George Bernard Shaw.
Original Broadway premiere
Program from Mark Hellinger Theatre
The musical had its pre-Broadway tryout at New Haven's Shubert Theatre. On opening night Rex Harrison, who was unaccustomed to singing in front of a live orchestra, "announced that under no circumstances would he go on that night...with those thirty-two interlopers in the pit". He locked himself in his dressing room and came out little more than an hour before curtain time. The whole company had been dismissed but were rounded up by the assistant stage manager. The opening night was a triumph. The musical then played for four weeks at the Erlanger Theatre in Philadelphia, beginning on February 15, 1956.
It premiered on Broadway March 15, 1956, at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York City. It transferred to the Broadhurst Theatre and then The Broadway Theatre, where it closed on September 29, 1962 after 2,717 performances, a record at the time. Moss Hart directed and Hanya Holm was choreographer. In addition to stars Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, the original cast included Stanley Holloway, Robert Coote, Cathleen Nesbitt, John Michael King, and Reid Shelton. Edward Mulhare and Sally Ann Howes replaced Harrison and Andrews later in the run. The Original Cast Recording went on to become the best-selling album in the country in both 1957 and 1958.
West End premiere
London's West End production, in which Harrison, Andrews, Coote, and Holloway reprised their roles, opened April 30, 1958, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where it ran for 2,281 performances. Stage star Zena Dare made her last appearance in the musical as Mrs. Higgins.
The first revival opened at the St. James Theatre on March 25, 1976 and ran there until December 5, 1976; it then transferred to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, running from December 9, 1976 until it closed on February 20, 1977, after a total of 377 performances and 7 previews. The director was Jerry Adler, with choreography by Crandall Diehl, based on the original choreography by Hanya Holm. Ian Richardson starred as Higgins, with Christine Andreas as Eliza, George Rose as Alfred P. Doolittle and Robert Coote recreating his role as Pickering. Both Richardson and Rose were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, with the award going to Rose.
A revival opened at the Uris Theatre on August 18, 1981 and closed on November 29, 1981 after 120 performances and 4 previews. Rex Harrison recreated his role as Higgins, with Jack Gwillim and Milo O'Shea co-starring and Nancy Ringham as Eliza. The director was Patrick Garland, with choreography by Crandall Diehl.
Another revival opened at the Virginia Theatre on December 9, 1993 and closed on May 1, 1994 after 165 performances and 16 previews. Directed by Howard Davies, with choreography by Donald Saddler, Richard Chamberlain, Melissa Errico and Paxton Whitehead starred.
In 1979, the first London revival opened at the Adelphi Theatre with Tony Britton as Higgins, Liz Robertson as Eliza, Dame Anna Neagle, Richard Caldicot and Peter Land. Cameron Mackintosh produced with Robin Midgley and Alan Jay Lerner directing. Gillian Lynne choreographed.
Mackintosh produced a new production in 2001 at the Royal National Theatre and later the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with Martine McCutcheon as Eliza and Jonathan Pryce as Higgins. This revival won three Olivier Awards: Outstanding Musical Production, Best Actress in a Musical (Martine McCutcheon) and Best Theatre Choreographer (Matthew Bourne). Joanna Riding took over the role of Eliza and won the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2003. A UK tour of this production began September 28, 2005 and ended August 12, 2006. The production starred Amy Nuttall and Lisa O'Hare as Eliza, Christopher Cazenove as Henry Higgins, Russ Abbot and Gareth Hale as Alfred Doolittle, and Honor Blackman and Hannah Gordon as Mrs. Higgins.
- 2007 New York Philharmonic concert
In 2007 the New York Philharmonic held a full-costume concert presentation of the musical. The concert had a four-day engagement lasting from March 7–10 at Lincoln Centers Avery Fisher Hall. It starred Kelli O'Hara as Eliza, Kelsey Grammer as Higgins, Charles Kimbrough as Pickering, and Brian Dennehy as Alfred Doolittle. Marni Nixon played Mrs. Higgins; Nixon had provided the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in the film version.
- 2007 US tour
A U.S. Tour of Mackintosh's 2001 West End production ran from September 12, 2007 to June 22, 2008. The production starred Lisa O'Hare as Eliza, Christopher Cazenove as Higgins, Walter Charles as Pickering, Tim Jerome as Alfred Doolittle and Nixon as Mrs. Higgins, replacing Sally Ann Howes.
- 2008 Australian tour
An Australian tour produced by Opera Australia commenced in May 2008. The production stars Reg Livermore as Higgins, Taryn Fiebig as Eliza, Robert Grubb as Alfred Doolittle and Judi Connelli as Mrs Pearce. John Wood took the role of Alfred Doolittle in Queensland, and Richard E. Grant played the role of Henry Higgins at the Theatre Royal, Sydney.
- Paris revival
Although no official announcement has been made, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris has circulated recruiting casting calls for a limited run production, in English, to open in December 2010 and close in January 2011 after 27 performances.
- Act One
On a rainy night in Edwardian London, the opera patrons are waiting under the arches of Covent Garden for cabs. Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, runs into a young man called Freddy. She admonishes him for spilling her violets in the mud but cheers up after selling one to an older gentleman. She flies into an angry outburst when she sees another man copying down her speech. The man explains that he studies phonetics and can identify any man's origin by his accent. He laments Eliza's dreadful accent, asking "Why Can't the English" learn to speak? He declares that in six months, he could turn Eliza into a lady by teaching her to speak properly. The older gentleman introduces himself as Colonel Pickering, a linguist who has studied Indian dialects. The phoneticist introduces himself as Henry Higgins, and, as they both have always wanted to meet each other, Higgins invites Pickering to stay at his home in London. He distractedly throws his change in Eliza's basket, and she and her friends wonder "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" to live a comfortable, proper life.
Eliza's father, Alfred P. Doolittle, his drinking companions Harry and Jamie, all dustmen, stop by the next morning. He is searching for money for a drink, and Eliza shares her profits with him ("With a Little Bit of Luck"). Pickering and Higgins are discussing vowels at Higgins's home when Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper, informs Higgins that a young woman with a ghastly accent has come to see him. It is Eliza, come to take lessons to speak properly so she can become a lady. Pickering wagers that Higgins cannot make good on his claim and volunteers to pay for Eliza's lessons. An intensive makeover of Eliza's speech, manners and dress begins in preparation for her appearance at the Embassy Ball. Higgins sees himself as a kindhearted, patient man who cannot get along with women ("I'm an Ordinary Man"). In reality, he is self-absorbed and misogynistic.
Eliza's father arrives at Higgins' house the next morning, claiming that Higgins is compromising Eliza's virtue. Higgins is impressed by the man's natural gift for language and his brazen lack of moral values ("Can't afford 'em!"). He and Doolittle agree that Eliza can continue to take lessons and live at Higgins' house if Higgins gives Doolittle five pounds for a spree. Higgins flippantly recommends Doolittle to an American millionaire who is seeking a lecturer on moral values. Meanwhile, Eliza endures speech tutoring, endlessly repeating phrases like "In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen” (to demonstrate that "h"s must be aspirated) and "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" (to practise the "long a" phoneme). She dreams of different ways to kill Higgins, from sickness to drowning to a firing squad ("Just You Wait"). The servants lament the hard "work" Higgins does ("The Servants' Chorus"). Just as they give up, Eliza suddenly "gets it" after Higgins eloquently speaks of the glory of the English language. "The Rain in Spain" becomes a song of triumph, as Higgins and Eliza dance around Higgins's study. Thereafter her pronunciation is transformed into that of impeccable upper class English. Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper, insists that Eliza go to bed; she declares she is too excited to sleep ("I Could Have Danced All Night").
For her first public tryout, Higgins takes Eliza to his mother's box at Ascot Racecourse ("Ascot Gavotte"). Henry's mother reluctantly agrees to help Eliza make conversation, following Henry's advice that Eliza should stick to two subjects: the weather and everybody's health. Eliza makes a good impression with her polite manners but shocks everyone by her vulgar Cockney attitudes and slang—it seems that good elocution is only skin deep. But she captures the heart of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the young man whom she first ran into. Freddy calls on Eliza that evening, but she refuses to see him. He declares that he will wait for her in the street outside Higgins's house ("On the Street Where You Live").
The final test requires Eliza to pass as a lady at the Embassy Ball, and after weeks of preparation, she is ready. All the ladies and gentlemen at the ball admire her, and the Queen of Transylvania invites her to dance with her son, the prince ("Embassy Waltz"). Eliza then dances with Higgins. A rival of Higgins, a Hungarian phonetician named Zoltan Karpathy, is employed by the hostess to discover Eliza's origins through her speech. Though Pickering and his mother caution him not to, Higgins allows Karpathy to dance with Eliza.
- Act Two
Eliza even fools Zoltan Karpathy into believing that she was "born Hungarian". After the ball, Col Pickering flatters Higgins about his triumph, and Higgins expresses his pleasure that the experiment is now over - ("You Did It"). The episode leaves Eliza feeling used and abandoned. Higgins completely ignores Eliza until he mislays his slippers. He asks her where they are, and she lashes out at him, leaving the clueless professor mystified by her ingratitude ("Just You Wait" (reprise)). Eliza decides to leave Higgins, and finds Freddy still waiting outside ("On the Street where You Live" (reprise)). He begins to tell her how much he loves her, but she cuts him off, telling him that she has heard enough words; if he really loves her, he should show it ("Show Me"). She and Freddy return to Covent Garden, where her friends do not recognize her refined bearing. By chance, her father is there as well, dressed in a fine suit. He explains that he received a surprise bequest of four thousand pounds a year from the American millionaire, which has raised him to middle-class respectability, and now he must marry Eliza's "stepmother", the woman he has been living with for many years. Eliza sees that she no longer belongs in Covent Garden, and she and Freddy depart. Doolittle and his friends have one last spree before the wedding ("Get Me to the Church on Time").
Higgins awakens the next morning to find that, without Eliza, he has tea instead of coffee, and he cannot find his own files. He wonders why she left after the triumph at the ball and concludes that men (especially himself) are far superior to women ("A Hymn to Him"). Higgins seeks his mother's advice and finds Eliza having tea with her. She leaves them together, and Eliza explains that he has always treated her as a flower girl, but she learned to be a lady because Colonel Pickering treated her like a lady. Higgins claims he treated her the same way that Pickering did, and demands that she return. Eliza accuses him of wanting her only to fetch and carry for him, saying that she will marry Freddy because he loves her. She declares that she does not need Higgins anymore, saying that she was foolish to think that she needed him ("Without You"). Higgins is struck by Eliza's spirit and independence and wants her to stay with him, but she tells him that he will not see her again.
As Higgins walks home, he realizes his feelings for Eliza: he has "grown accustomed to her face". He cannot bring himself to confess that he loves her and insists that if she marries Freddy and then comes back to him, he will not accept her. However, he finds it difficult to imagine being alone again. He reviews the recording he made of the morning Eliza first came to him for lessons. He hears his own harsh words: "She's so deliciously low! So horribly dirty!" Then the phonograph turns off, and a real voice speaks in a Cockney accent: "I washed me face an' 'ands before I come, I did". Henry turns and sees Eliza standing in the doorway, tentatively returning to him. The musical ends on an ambiguous moment of possible reconciliation between teacher and pupil, as Higgins slouches and asks, "Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?".
Characters and original cast
- Eliza Doolittle, a young Cockney woman who sells flowers – Julie Andrews
- Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, who teaches Eliza to speak "properly" – Rex Harrison
- Colonel Pickering, Higgins's friend, who assists him in teaching Eliza – Robert Coote
- Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Eliza's suitor – John Michael King
- Mrs. Higgins, Henry Higgins's socialite mother – Cathleen Nesbitt
- Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father, a poor dustman – Stanley Holloway
- Mrs. Pearce, Henry Higgins's head of household – Philippa Bevans
- Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, Freddy's mother – Viola Roache
- Zoltan Karpathy, Henry Higgins's former student, a Hungarian and Higgins's rival – Christopher Hewett
- Act I
- Overture - The Orchestra
- Busker Sequence - The Orchestra
- Why Can't the English? - Professor Higgins
- Wouldn't It Be Loverly? - Eliza and Male Quartet
- With a Little Bit of Luck - Alfred Doolittle
- I'm an Ordinary Man - Professor Higgins
- With a Little Bit of Luck (Reprise) - Alfred Doolittle and Ensemble
- Just You Wait - Eliza
- The Servants' Chorus (Poor Professor Higgins) - Mrs. Pearce and Servants
- The Rain in Spain - Professor Higgins, Eliza, and Colonel Pickering
- I Could Have Danced All Night - Eliza, Mrs. Pearce, and Servants
- Ascot Gavotte - Ensemble
- On the Street Where You Live - Freddy
- Eliza's Entrance/Embassy Waltz - The Orchestra
- Act II
- You Did It - Professor Higgins, Colonel Pickering, Mrs. Pearce, and Servants
- Just You Wait (Reprise) - Eliza
- On the Street Where You Live (Reprise) - Freddy
- Show Me - Eliza
- Wouldn't It Be Loverly? (Reprise) - Eliza and Ensemble
- Get Me to the Church on Time - Alfred Doolittle and Ensemble
- A Hymn to Him (Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man) - Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering
- Without You - Eliza
- I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face - Professor Higgins
- I Could Have Danced All Night (Reprise) - The Orchestra
According to Geoffrey Block, "Opening night critics immediately recognized that 'My Fair Lady' fully measured up to the Rodgers and Hammerstein model of an integrated musical...Robert Coleman...wrote 'The Lerner-Loewe songs are not only delightful, they advance the action as well. They are ever so much more than interpolations, or interruptions.'" The musical opened to "unanimously glowing reviews, one of which said 'Don't bother reading this review now. You'd better sit right down and send for those tickets...' Critics praised the thoughtful use of Shaw's original play, the brilliance of the lyrics, and Loewe's well-integrated score."
A sampling of praise from critics, excerpted from a book form of the musical, published in 1956.
- "A felicitous blend of intellect, wit, rhythm and high spirits. A masterpiece of musical comedy ... a terrific show." Robert Coleman, New York Daily Mirror.
- "Fine, handsome, melodious, witty and beautifully acted ... an exceptional show." George Jean Nathan, New York Journal American.
- "Everything about My Fair Lady is distinctive and distinguished." John Chapman, New York Daily News.
Awards and nominations
- 1956 Broadway
- 1976 Broadway revival
- Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical - Ian Richardson, George Rose (WINNER)
- Theatre World Award - Christine Andreas (WINNER)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical - Ian Richardson (WINNER)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical - George Rose (WINNER)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Musical - Jerry Adler
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival - Produced by Herman Levin
- 1981 Broadway revival
- 1993 Broadway revival
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical Revival - Produced by Barry & Fran Weissler, Jujamcyn Theaters (James H. Binger: Chairman; Rocco Landesman: President; Paul Libin: Producing Director; Jack Viertel: Creative Director); Produced in association with PACE Theatrical Group, Inc., Tokyo Broadcasting System Intl., Inc., Martin Rabbett
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical - Melissa Errico
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design - Patricia Zipprodt
- 2001 West End revival
An Oscar-winning film version was made in 1964 directed by George Cukor and with Harrison again in the part of Higgins. Controversy surrounded the casting of Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews for the part of Eliza — partly because theatregoers regarded Andrews as perfect for the part and partly because Hepburn's singing voice had to be dubbed. (Marni Nixon Lerner in particular disliked the film version of the musical, thinking it did not live up to the standards of Moss Hart's original direction. He was also unhappy that the film was shot on the Warner Brothers backlot rather than, as he would have preferred, in London.
A new film adaptation has been announced by Columbia Pictures. John Madden has been named director, with the role of Eliza to be played by British actress Carey Mulligan.
- ^ See, e.g., Steyn, Mark. Broadway Babies Say Goodnight: Musicals Then and Now, Routledge (1999), p. 119 ISBN 0415922860 and this 1993 NY Times review
- ^ Lerner, The Street Where I Live, p. 47
- ^ Morley, Sheridan. A Talent to Amuse: A Biography of Noël Coward, p. 369, Doubleday & Company, 1969
- ^ http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/cvvpw/gallery/martin1.html
- ^ Lerner, p. 104
- ^ History of the show
- ^ Lawson, Kyle. "Marni Nixon in My Fair Lady" The Arizona Republic, June 10, 2008
- ^ US Tour information MyFairLadyTheMusical.com
- ^ Tim Jerome bio
- ^ Gans, Andrew."Marni Nixon to Join My Fair Lady Tour in Chicago" playbill.com, August 28, 2007
- ^ Kong, Stephany. "Casting: le Théâtre du Châtelet recrute pour 'My Fair Lady' à Paris". Musical Avenue, April 14, 2010.
- ^ Block, Geoffrey. Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from Show Boat to Sondheim, Oxford University Press US, 2004, ISBN 0195167309, p. 228
- ^ Everett, William A., Laird, Paul R. The Cambridge Companion to the Musical, Cambridge University Press, 2008 (Ed.2), ISBN 0521862388, p. 176
- ^ My Fair Lady: A Musical Play in Two Acts. Based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Adaptation and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe. New York: Doward-McCann, Inc., 1956.
- ^ Lerner, The Street Where I Live pp 134-36
- ^ Gans, Andrew (2008-06-02). "Columbia Pictures and CBS Films to Develop New My Fair Lady Film". Playbill. http://www.playbill.com/news/article/118417.html. Retrieved 2008-06-06.
- ^ "Carey Mulligan 'set to play' Doolittle". BBC News, March 25, 2010
- Citron, David (1995). The Wordsmiths: Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Alan Jay Lerner, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195083865
- Garebian, Keith (1998). The Making of My Fair Lady, Mosaic Press. ISBN 0889626537
- Green, Benny, Editor (1987). A Hymn to Him : The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner, Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0879101091
- Jablonski, Edward (1996). Alan Jay Lerner: A Biography, Henry Holt & Co. ISBN 0805040765
- Lees, Gene (2005). The Musical Worlds of Lerner and Loewe, Bison Books. ISBN 0803280408
- Lerner, Alan Jay (1985). The Street Where I Live, Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306806029
- Shapiro, Doris (1989). We Danced All Night: My Life Behind the Scenes With Alan Jay Lerner, Barricade Books. ISBN 0942637984