My Fair Lady is a musical that hit Broadway in March of 1956 and has continued to impress audiences ever since. The musical is based on George Bernard Shaw‘s, Pygmalion. In ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion fell in love with one of his sculptures which then comes to life. We can relate this story to, My Fair Lady where there is a similar plot in which a character that builds up another, (in terms of class) then falls in love with her. My fair Lady the musical, has lyrics from Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. As soon as Lerner and Loewe began working together, they immediately realized the struggle they would face with this particular musical. One problem that they had not confronted before, was the fact that the main story of the show was not really a love story, and there was no place for an ensemble. However, despite this difference, the two decided to not give up on the show. Two years of constant changing of scenes and lines, led to the final product that Lerner and Loewe felt confident in. They held auditions at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre. The original Broadway production included the talented cast of: Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins, Stanley Holloway as Eliza’s father, and Cathleen Nesbitt as Miss. Higgins.
The first production of My Fair Lady was staged by Moss Hart and choreographed by Hanya Holm at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on March 15, 1956. Previously, Moss Hart scored his first directing job for the Broadway hit Once in a Lifetime in 1930, and had even more experience with 7 other musicals before helping out with My Fair Lady. The original costumes were designed by Cecil Beaton and are currently on display at the Costume World Broadway Collection in Pompano Beach, Florida. The costumes were very representative of the time the show was set in, which was the 1950’s and included long dresses, shalls, big hats, top hats, long pants, and button ups. Then of course, we have Eliza in the story that goes from a low class dresser, to more of a fancy, put together dressed lady, so that had a lot to do with her many costume changes as well.
After much preparation the show finally makes it to opening night at Broadway and runs into yet another issue! On opening night, Rex Harrison who was not used 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 ended up locking himself in his dressing room and came out with little more than an hour before curtain call! The whole company had been dismissed but were recalled and despite the struggle, opening night was a huge success.
The show transferred from the Mark Hellinger Theater, to the Broadhurst Theatre, and then The Broadway Theatre, where it closed on September 29, 1962 after an outstanding number of 2,717 performances. This set a record for the longest run of any major musical theatre productions in history, surpassing the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical play, Oklahoma!, which had held the record up to then. Some reviews include one from Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times stating, “One of the best musicals of the century.” As well as, Wolcott Gibbs from the New Yorker announcing the show being, “Wonderfully entertaining and extraordinarily welcomed … meritorious in every department”. On top of the great reviews, the show also won 7 Tony awards in 1956 and 1957.
The overall story of My fair Lady concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney accented flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins so that she may pass as a lady. At the end of his teachings, Professor Higgins realizes he has grown “accustomed to Eliza’s face”, as he sings about and realizes he really loves her.
Through this story, the musical is making a huge statement on social classes and is one of the first musicals to do so. In the era of the 1950’s there was no middle class. High class was the only working and successful people. The whole experiment with Eliza shows that social class has less to do with money or connections and more to do with proper training. Eliza is able to prove that anyone can become what is considered “proper” or successful if you have the right information and training. What was so great about this musical and the reason it had such a great impact on American Musical Theater, is that it said more than just a love story. It brought up what other musical hadn’t dared to bring up: the controversial issues of social classes and the economy. Eliza starts the show singing about dreaming of a “room somewhere far away from the cold night air” in the song, “Wouldn’t it be Loverly” to the confidence of: “I could’ve spread my wings and done a thousand things I’ve never done before” in the song, “I could’ve danced all night”. Here, Eliza really proves the point that no matter what your background is, or what your talent is…anything is possible. The story is also making a statement on how people treat each other, particularly women stereotypically. Eliza Doolittle states, “The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.” This is a very significant realization that the musical makes. It is the realization of how women are treated based on whether or not they are considered a “lady”. This idea is still extremely relevant to today’s issues of women’s role in society, women’s problems with body issues and insecurities. Another instance of this in My Fair Lady, is when Professor Henry Higgins states while talking to Hugh Pickering, “I find that the moment a woman makes friends with me she becomes jealous, exacting, suspicious, and a damn nuisance.” Which is another instance where we see how women are stereotyped as crazy. Because of how the story ends, (with Eliza Doolittle becoming a successful, confident, women) it is shown that women are strong, and can be successful and overcome negative stereotypes.
copyright: Carly Ristuccia