January 17, 2011

The Musical That Almost Wasn’t: “My Fair Lady”

Broadways most enduring (and endearing) musical

Julie Andrews, the original Eliza Doolittle
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein said no.  Noël Coward refused to write it, too.  Rights issues, the break-up of writing team Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe and complications over adapting George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion to the musical theater form all threatened to keep My Fair Lady from being born.

Shaw’s original play lacked key elements considered essential to the romanticism of the musical theater stage.  The main story was not a love story, and there was no subplot or secondary love story.  There was no place for an ensemble.  Admitting defeat, Lerner and Loewe set the project aside and later the collaborators separated.  But during the ensuing two years, Lerner’s thoughts often returned to the task of adapting Shaw’s play as a musical.  When he and Loewe later reunited, he had solved many of the dilemmas that had daunted the team earlier.  “All we had to do was add what Shaw had happening off stage.”  They then began excitedly writing the show.

However, Chase Manhattan Bank was in charge of the rights to Pygmalion and those rights were being sought both by Lerner and Loewe and by MGM, whose executives called Lerner to discourage him from challenging the studio.  Loewe said to Lerner, “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.”  In the end, Loewe’s prediction was right--My Fair Lady belonged to them.

Noël Coward was first offered the role of Henry Higgins, but fatefully suggested instead that the team cast Rex HarrisonMary Martin was courted to be the first Eliza Doolittle, but refused the part.  Young Julie Andrews was cast instead after the team “discovered” her in her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend.  It took hearing only two of the songs to hook director Moss Hart.

My Fair Lady opened March 15, 1956 and ran for more than 9 years and 2,717 performances, making it the longest running musical at the time.  It has won seven Tony Awards, two Theatre World Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, five Olivier Awards, the film version won eight Academy Awards and My Fair Lady has been nominated another 14 times, giving it the most accolades of any production.  And all for a show that almost never was.

This weekend, join an orchestra of 35, a cast of 25 and relish in the magic of Eliza Doolittle’s transformation from cockney flower girl to a sophisticated lady of the ball as Broadway In Concert presents this most beloved of American musicals.  And in a harkening back to the days of the show’s original run, Sarah Uriarte Berry (who plays our Eliza Doolittle) was coached in the songs by Marni Nixon, Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice for Eliza in the Academy Award-winning film.

Sarah Uriarte Berry (Eliza Doolittle) – Broadway In Concert’s Hello Dolly, Broadway’s The Light in the Piazza, Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables.

Paul Schoeffler (Henry Higgins) – Broadway’s Rock of Ages, Sweet Charity, Beauty and the Beast, Victor/Victoria, Sunday in the Park with George.

Andrew Boyer (Alfred P. Doolittle) – Broadway In Concert’s Music Man, Broadway’s 2000 revival of Music Man, Gypsy with Patti Lupone.

January 22 & 23, 2011 ONLY
408-286-2600, Ext 23

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