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GOOD MORNING BROADWAY FANS! Truly a LOVERLY day getting ourselves hyped and pumped celebrating the return of the Great Bright Way. We are just 28 DAYS AWAY till The 74th Annual Tony Awards. New York Broadway Tours TOP 50 TONY AWARDS COUNTDOWN continues with more of your favorite performances from the past year’s of Broadway’s biggest night. So much more great ones coming up.
At # 28 on our countdown, our selection is truly a LOVERLY classic musical. We are about to take a trip to London in the early 1900’s. There, we meet a poor cockney peasant flower girl, forced by a phonetics professor to learn how to be a “proper lady”, and gets raised by high society. This is the legendary My Fair Lady. With music by Frederick Loewe and lyrics and a book by Alan Jay Lerner, it’s based on George Bernard Shaw’s novel PYGMALION.
From the 2018 telecast, Tony nominees Lauren Ambrose as “Eliza Doolittle” and Harry Hadden-Paton as “Professor Henry Higgins”, along with Allan Corduner as “Colonel Pickering”, Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz as “Alfred P. Doolittle”, and the company of the recent Lincoln Center Theatre revival perform a medley of some of the show’s signature tunes including THE RAIN IN SPAIN, I COULD HAVE DANCED ALL NIGHT, and the toe-tapping GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME.
MY FAIR LADY was originally first conceived in the 1930’s by Hollywood producer Gabriel Pascal. He just secured the rights to adapt several of George Bernard Shaw’s plays including PYGMALION as a musical. However, due to another one of his famous plays ARMS AND THE MAN which was translated into an operetta called THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER that became a huge flop, Shaw himself refused. Several years later after Shaw’s passing, Pascal decided to go back to working on the PYGMALION project. He hired composing duo Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe to work on it. However, Lerner & Loewe (and even Rodgers & Hammerstein) realized that the play broke several key rules that went into creating a musical….
1. The central storyline was not a romance
2. No subplot or secondary romance
3. No room for the Ensemble.
Lerner & Loewe abandoned the project and eventually went their own separate ways for 2 years. During that time, Gabriel Pascal passed away. One day while working on a musical adaptation of the comic strip LI’L ABNER, Lerner read Pascal’s obituary and decided to reunite with Loewe to go back to the unfinished PYGMALION project. This time when they came together, all the pieces of the story slowly started to come in. However once they were ready to go, there was one additional problem… Chase Manhattan Bank was in charge of Gabriel Pascal’s estate and the rights were sought by both Lerner & Loewe and MGM (who discouraged Lerner from challenging the studio). It eventually led to a compromise with Loewe deciding to continue writing it without the rights. For 5 months, a creative team was put together and the bank gave Lerner & Loewe the rights to PYGMALION on stage. In addition, the musical went through a name change with the name we all know the musical as today….. MY FAIR LADY which was one of Shaw’s provisional titles for PYGMALION, FAIR ELIZA and it also comes from the last verse of the famous children’s nursery rhyme LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN.
With a full creative team put together, casting officially began. For the lead role of “Eliza Doolittle”, the team initially wanted to cast Mary Martin. However, she refused. However after seeing a Broadway show entitled THE BOY FRIEND, the team discovered their star. She was a rising talent who was making her debut in the show and came to NYC all the way from England…. Yup, the eventually now turned iconic Julie Andrews. For the role of “Professor Henry Higgins”, the team initially offered it to acclaimed actor Noel Coward who also turned it down. However, Coward suggested to the producers to cast Rex Harrison. After several compromises, Harrison accepted the role.
The show had its world premiere Pre-Broadway tryout in New Haven, Connecticut. At the first performance, Rex Harrison (who at the time was not used to working with a live pit) refused to go on. He locked himself in the dressing room and out no more than an hour before showtime. The company was dismissed and the Opening Night was a smash.
MY FAIR LADY officially debuted on Broadway in 1956 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre (now the Times Square Church) before later transferring to the Broadhurst Theatre and Broadway Theatre. It ran for a complete total of 2,717 performances. Under the direction of Moss Hart, the cast starred…
Julie Andrews (later Sally Ann Howes and Pamela Charles) as “Eliza Doolittle”,
Rex Harrison (later Edward Mulhare, Lawrence Keith, and Michael Allinson) as “Professor Henry Higgins”,
Robert Coote (later Robin Craven and Reginald Denny) as “Colonel Pickering”,
Stanley Holloway (later Ronald Radd) as “Alfred P. Doolittle”,
Catherine Nesbitt (later Viola Roache) as “Mrs. Higgins”,
John Michael-King as “Freddy Eynsford-Hill”,
and more.
The original production was nominated for 10 Tony Awards that year winning 6 including BEST MUSICAL and BEST LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL (for Rex Harrison).
MY FAIR LADY went on to become a smash hit around the world, including London’s West End and Australia. It was later revived 4 times on Broadway.
The first revival happened in 1976 playing the St. James Theatre and then later moving to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre for a complete total of 384 performances. Under the direction of Jerry Adler, the cast starred…
Christine Andreas as “Eliza Doolittle”,
Ian Richardson as “Professor Henry Higgins”,
Robert Coote reprising his original role as “Colonel Pickering”,
George Rose as “Alfred P. Doolittle”,
Brenda Forbes as “Mrs. Higgins”,
Jerry Lanning as “Freddy Eynsford-Hill”,
and more.
It was nominated for 2 Tonys that year both for BEST LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL (for both Ian Richardson and George Rose). It was given to George Rose.
The 2nd Broadway revival happened in 1981 at the Uris Theatre (now the Gershwin Theatre) running for a complete total of 120 performances. Under the direction of Patrick Garland, the cast starred….
Nancy Ringham as “Eliza Doolittle”,
Rex Harrison reprising his original role as “Professor Henry Higgins”,
Jack Gwillim as “Colonel Pickering”,
Milo O’Shea as “Alfred P. Doolittle”,
Catherine Nesbitt reprising her original role as “Mrs. Higgins”,
Nicholas Wyman as “Freddy Eynsford-Hill”,
and more.
It only had 1 Tony nomination for BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL but lost the category.
The 3rd Broadway revival happened in 1993 at the Virginia Theatre (now the August Wilson Theatre) running for a total of 181 performances. Under the direction of Howard Davies, the cast starred…
Melissa Errico as “Eliza Doolittle”,
Richard Chamberlain as “Professor Henry Higgins”,
Paxton Whitehead as “Colonel Pickering”,
Julian Holloway recreating his father’s role as “Alfred P. Doolittle”,
Dolores Sutton as “Mrs. Higgins”,
Robert Sella as “Freddy Eynsford-Hill”,
and more.
It received no Tony Award nominations or wins that year.
The 4th and most recent revival of MY FAIR LADY happened in 2018 at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre (part of Lincoln Center Theater) playing a complete total of 587 performances. Currently this production is gearing up to launch a National Tour in a few weeks and a West End company in 2020. Under the direction of Tony winner Bartlett Sher, the cast starred….
Lauren Ambrose (later Laura Benanti) as “Eliza Doolittle”,
Harry Hadden-Patron as “Professor Henry Higgins”,
Allan Corduner as “Colonel Pickering”,
Norbert Leo Butz (later Danny Burstein and Alexander Gemignani) as “Alfred P. Doolittle”,
the recently late Diana Rigg (later Rosemary Harris) as “Mrs. Higgins”,
Jordan Donica (later Christian Dante White) as “Freddy Eynsford-Hill”,
and more.
The recent Lincoln Center Theater revival was nominated for 10 Tony Awards including BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL. It ended up winning only 1 for BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL (for Catherine Zuber).
At the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, this production had just launched its National Tour. It is expecting to resume it this Fall. Plans for a West End company of this production will be revealed soon.
Besides it’s triumph on Broadway, MY FAIR LADY is well known as an iconic 1964 musical film from Warner Bros. Pictures. Under the direction of George Cukor, the cast starred…..
Audrey Hepburn (with Marni Nixon’s singing voice) as “Eliza Doolittle”,
Rex Harrison reprising his Broadway performance on screen as “Professor Henry Higgins”,
WIlfrid Hyde-White as “Colonel Pickering”,
Stanley Holloway reprising his Broadway performance on screen as “Alfred P. Doolittle”,
Gladys Cooper as “Mrs. Higgins”,
Jeremy Brett (with Bill Shirley’s singing voice) as “Freddy Eynsford-Hill”,
and more.
The film went on to win 8 Academy Awards that year including BEST PICTURE and BEST ACTOR (for Rex Harrison who also made history as one of the few actors ever to win BOTH the Tony and the Oscar for the same role. Hepburn was snubbed from the Oscar but the winner coincidentally that year was the musical’s original Broadway “Eliza” herself Julie Andrews (who won a Best Actress Oscar for Mary Poppins).
Isn’t this musical so LOVERLY and timeless?
Mike Haber
Author: Mike Haber

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