Tony Award Winner 1957: My Fair Lady

13 Mar

my fair lady

 

Ah My Fair Lady–based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, this classic story of a linguist changing a street urchin to a princess is the ultimate Cinderella story–for the first half of the play at any rate.   The second half (which everyone seems to forget) plummets Eliza back to earth as Professor Higgins takes her completely for granted.  She leaves him, to tentatively return at the very end.  He seems to realize that he needs her, but he’s not apologetic.   There’s a certain sadness to the end of this piece, as Eliza has given up all that is familiar to become a lady, and in becoming a lady finds she fits in nowhere.

As for the music–it’s all good.    Let’s start with the easy stuff.  Personally I could do without Rex Harrison’s talk-singing.   In one song or two, it’s a change of pace, but I find it grating after awhile.  I can’t say there isn’t a reason to find him grating, so there’s a point in that, but I tend to skip over his songs.  The best of his is “Why Can’t the English” because that’s where speak-singing makes the most sense.  His version of “I’ve grown accustomed to her face” really annoys me though, because it is quite a pretty song–if it was actually–you know–sung.

The supporting characters–Freddy’s got “On the Street Where You Live” which is a very lovely song, which also does a very good job at showing him as a sentimental schoolboy type (compare his operetta voice with everyone else’s–it’s a bit too refined and practiced, absolutely perfect.)   Then we’ve got Alfred Doolittle’s songs, both which are of the English music hall type.  “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “With a Little Bit of Luck” both are glorious songs, all the more impressive because if you listen to London musicals from this period, you’ll hear heaps of the music hall stuff, none of which holds a candle to both these songs.   He injects a scampish good humor which counterpoints the main songs quite nicely.

And Julie Andrews–my god, I was worried that I wouldn’t like this soundtrack because I grew up with the Marnie Nixon/Audrey Hepburn songs.   Julie Andrews injects such spirit in every note she utters.  Her voice is so pure, and her performances absolutely impeccable.  The movie version sounds so washed out in comparison that I can understand why people were infuriated that Audrey Hepburn got the role.

This is not only the best musical of 1957, but a strong contender for the best musical of the fifties period (only West Side Story could compete.)   How does it sound so modern and old fashioned at the same time?   How could something so non-American so capture America’s imagination?   An absolute dream.

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