My Fair Lady: From Pygmalion to Cinderella
My Fair Lady: From Pygmalion to Cinderella
Abstract and Keywords
My Fair Lady was without doubt the most popularly successful musical of its era. Before the close of its spectacular run of 2, 717 performances from 1956 to 1962 it had comfortably surpassed Oklahoma!'s previous record of 2, 248. And unlike the ephemeral success of the wartime Broadway heroines depicted in Lady in the Dark and One Touch of Venus, librettist-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner's and composer Frederick “Fritz” Loewe's fair lady went on to age phenomenally well. Over 18 million cast albums were sold and profits from the staged performances, albums, and 1964 film came to the then astronomical figure of $800 million. Critically successful revivals followed in 1975 and 1981, the latter with Rex Harrison (Henry Higgins) and Cathleen Nesbitt (Mrs. Higgins) reclaiming their original Broadway roles.
My Fair Lady was without doubt the most popularly successful musical of its era. Before the close of its spectacular run of 2, 717 performances from 1956 to 1962 it had comfortably surpassed Oklahoma! 's previous record of 2, 248.1 And unlike the ephemeral success of the wartime Broadway heroines depicted in Lady in the Dark and One Touch of Venus, librettist-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner's and composer Frederick “Fritz” Loewe's fair lady went on to age phenomenally well. Most remarkably, over eighteen million cast albums were sold and profits from the staged performances, albums, and 1964 film came to the then-astronomical figure of $800 million. Critically successful revivals followed in 1975 and 1981, the latter with Rex Harrison (Henry Higgins) and Cathleen Nesbitt (Mrs. Higgins) reclaiming their original Broadway roles. In 1993 the work returned once again, this time with television miniseries superstar Richard Chamberlain as Higgins, newcomer Melissa Errico as Eliza, and Julian Holloway playing Alfred P. Doolittle, the role his father, Stanley, created on Broadway on March 15, 1956.
As with most of the musicals under scrutiny in the present survey, the popular and financial success of My Fair Lady was and continues to be matched by critical acclaim. Walter Kerr of the Herald Tribune told his readers: “Don't bother to finish reading this review now. You'd better sit down and send for those tickets to My Fair Lady.”2 William Hawkins of the World-Telegram & Sun wrote that the show “prances into that rare class of great (p.226)
Opening night critics immediately recognized that My Fair Lady fully measured up to the Rodgers and Hammerstein model of an integrated musical. As Robert Coleman of the Daily Mirror 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. They are a most (p.227) important and integrated element in about as perfect an entertainment as the most fastidious playgoer could demand. … A new landmark in the genre fathered by Rodger s and Hammer stein. A terrific show!”5
Many early critics noted the skill and appropriateness of the adaptation from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1912). For Daily News reviewer John Chapman, Lerner and Loewe “have written much the way Shaw must have done had he been a musician instead of a music critic.”6 Hawkins wrote that “the famed Pygmalion has been used with such artfulness and taste, such vigorous reverence, that it springs freshly to life all over again.”7 And even though Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times added the somewhat condescending “basic observation” that “Shaw's crackling mind is still the genius of My Fair Lady,” he concluded his rave of this “wonderful show” by endorsing the work on its own merits: “To Shaw's agile intelligence it adds the warmth, loveliness, and excitement of a memorable theatre frolic.”8
Lerner (1918–1986) and Loewe (1901–1988) met fortuitously at New York's Lambs Club in 1942. Before he began to match wits with Loewe, Lerner's marginal writing experience had consisted of lyrics to two Hasty Pudding musicals at Harvard and a few radio scripts. Shortly after their meeting Loewe asked Lerner to help revise Great Lady, a musical which had previously met its rapid Broadway demise in 1938. The team inauspiciously inaugurated their Broadway collaboration with two now-forgotten flops, What's Up? (1943) and The Day Before Spring (1945).
Documentation for the years before Loewe arrived in the United States in 1924 is sporadic and unreliable, and most of the frequently circulated “facts” about the European years—for example that Loewe studied with Weill's teacher, Ferruccio Busoni—were circulated by Loewe himself and cannot be independently confirmed. Sources even disagree about the year and city of his birth, and the most reliable fact about his early years is that his father was the famous singer Edmund Loewe, who debuted as Prince Danilo in the Berlin production of Lehár's The Merry Widow and performed the lead in Oscar Straus's first and only Shaw adaptation, The Chocolate Soldier.9
As Loewe would have us believe, young Fritz was a child prodigy who began to compose at the age of seven and who at age thirteen became the youngest pianist to have appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic. None of this can be verified. Lerner and Loewe biographer Gene Lees also questions Loewe's frequently reported claim to have written a song, “Katrina,” that (p.228) managed to sell two million copies.10 Loewe's early years in America remain similarly obscure. After a decade of often extremely odd jobs, including professional boxing, gold prospecting, delivering mail on horseback, and cow punching, Loewe broke into show business when one of his songs was interpolated in the nonmusical Petticoat Fever by operetta star Dennis King. Another Loewe song was interpolated in The Illustrators Show (1936).11 The Great Lady fiasco (twenty performances) occurred two years later.
After their early Broadway failures Lerner and Loewe produced their first successful Rodgers and Hammerstein-type musical on their third Broadway try, Brigadoon (1947), a romantic tale of a Scottish village that awakens from a deep sleep once every hundred years. By the end of the musical the town offers a permanent home to a formerly jaded American who discovers the meaning of life and love (and some effective ersatz-Scottish music) within its timeless borders. The following year Lerner wrote the book and lyrics for the first of many musicals without Loewe, the modestly successful and rarely revived avant-garde “concept musical” Love Life (with music by Weill). Lerner and Loewe's next collaboration, the occasionally revived Paint Your Wagon (1951) was less than a hit on its first run. Also in 1951 Lerner without Loewe wrote the Academy Award-winning screenplay for An American in Paris, which featured the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin. By 1952 Lerner, reunited with Loewe, was ready to tackle Shaw.
My Fair Lady and Pygmalion
It may seem inevitable that someone would have set Pygmalion, especially when considering the apparent ease with which Lerner and Loewe adapted Shaw's famous play for the musical stage. In fact, much conspired against any musical setting of a Shaw play for the last forty years of the transplanted Irishman's long and productive life. The main obstacle until Shaw's death in 1950 was the playwright himself, who, after enduring what he considered to be a travesty of Arms and the Man in Straus's The Chocolate Soldier (1910), wrote to Theatre Guild producer Theresa Helburn in 1939 that “nothing will ever induce me to allow any other play of mine to be degraded into an operetta or set to any music except its own.”12 As early as 1921, seven years after the English premiere of his play, Shaw aggressively thwarted an attempt by Lehár to secure the rights to Pygmalion: “a Pygmalion operetta is quite out of the question.”13 As late as 1948 (p.229) Shaw was rejecting offers to musicalize Pygmalion, and in response to a request from Gertrude Lawrence (the original heroine of Lady in the Dark) he offered his last word on the subject: “My decision as to Pygmalion is final: let me hear no more about it. This is final.”14
Much of our information on the genesis of My Pair Lady comes from Lerner's engagingly written autobiography, The Street Where I Live (1978), more than one hundred pages of which are devoted to the compositional genesis, casting, and production history of their Shaw adaptation.15 Additionally, Loewe's holograph piano-vocal score manuscripts in the Music Division of the Library of Congress offer a fascinating glimpse into some later details of the compositional process of the songs.
From Lerner we learn that after two or three weeks of intensive discussion and planning in 1952 the team's first tussle with the musicalization of Shaw's play had produced only discouragement. Part of the problem was that the reverence Lerner and Loewe held for Shaw's play precluded a drastic overhaul. Equally problematic, their respect for the Rodgers and Hammerstein model initially prompted Lerner and Loewe to find an appropriate place for a choral ensemble as well as a secondary love story. While a chorus could be contrived with relative ease, it was more difficult to get around the second problem: Shaw's play, “had one story and one story only,” and the central plot of Pygmalion, “although Shaw called it a romance, is a non-love story.”16 In a chance meeting with Hammerstein, the great librettist-lyricist told Lerner, “It can't be done. … Dick [Rodgers] and I worked on it for over a year and gave it up.”17
Lerner and Loewe returned to their adaptation of Shaw two years later confident that a Shavian musical would be possible. As Lerner explains:
By 1954 it no longer seemed essential that a musical have a subplot, nor that there be an ever-present ensemble filling the air with high C's and flying limbs. In other words, some of the obstacles that had stood in the way of converting Pygmalion into a musical had simply been removed by a changing style. … As Fritz and I talked and talked, we gradually began to realize that the way to convert Pygmalion to a musical did not require the addition of any new characters. … We could do Pygmalion simply by doing Pygmalion following the screenplay [of the 1938 film as altered by director Gabriel Pascal] more than the [stage] play and adding the action that took place between the acts of the play.18
Instead of placing Higgins as a professor of phonetics in a University setting in order to generate the need for a chorus of students, Professor (p.230) Higgins used his home as his laboratory and a chorus comprised of his servants now sufficed. Since the move from a tea party at the home of Higgins's mother to the Ascot races provided the opportunity for a second chorus, it seemed unnecessary to insert a third chorus at the Embassy Ball. Although they did not invent any characters, Lerner and Loewe did provide a variation of a Rodgers and Hammerstein-type subplot by expanding the role of Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father.19 Despite these changes and other omissions and insertions that alter the tone and meaning of Shaw's play, Lerner's libretto follows much of the Pygmalion text with remarkable tenacity. In contrast to any of the adaptations considered here, Lerner and Loewe's libretto leaves long stretches of dialogue virtually unchanged.
By November 1954 Lerner and Loewe had completed five songs for their new musical. Two of these, “The Ascot Gavotte” and “Just You Wait,” would eventually appear in the show. Another song intended for Eliza, “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight,” would be partially salvaged in the Embassy Ball music and recycled in the film Gigi (1958).20 Also completed by November 1954 were two songs intended for Higgins, “Please Don't Marry Me,” the “first attempt to dramatize Higgins' misogyny,” and “Lady Liza,” the first of several attempts to find a song in which Higgins would encourage a demoralized Eliza to attend the Embassy Ball.21 Rex Harrison, the Higgins of choice from the outset, vigorously rejected both of these songs, and they quickly vanished. The casting of Harrison, the actor most often credited with introducing a new kind of talk-sing, was of course a crucial decision that affected the musical characteristics of future Higgins songs.22 A second try at “Please Don't Marry Me” followed in 1955 and resulted in the now familiar “I'm an Ordinary Man.” “Come to the Ball” replaced “Lady Liza” and stayed in the show until opening night. Lerner summarizes the compositional progress of their developing show: “By mid-February  we left London with the Shaw rights in one hand, commitments from Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway”, and Cecil Beaton [costumes] in the other, two less songs than we had arrived with [“Please Don't Marry Me” and “Lady Liza”] and a year's work ahead of us.”23
Earlier Lerner reported that a winter's journey around the frigid Covent Garden had yielded the title and melody of “Wouldn't It Be Loverly.” The genesis of Eliza's first song demonstrates the team's usual pattern: title, tune, and, after excruciating procrastination and writer's block, a lyric.24 The lyricist details the agony of creation for “Wouldn't It Be Loverly,” a process which took Loewe “one afternoon” and Lerner weeks of delay and psychological trauma before he could even produce a word. Six weeks “after a successful tour around the neighborhood with ‘Wouldn't It Be (p.231) Loverly?’ ” they completed Higgins's opening pair of songs, “Why Can't the English?” and “I'm an Ordinary Man.”25 These are the last songs that Lerner mentions before rehearsals began in January 1956.
Lerner's chronology accounts for all but four My Fair Lady songs: “With A Little Bit of Luck,” “The Servants' Chorus,” “Promenade,” and “Without You.” All Lerner has to say about “With a Little Bit of Luck” is that it was written for Holloway sometime before rehearsals.26 But although Lerner's autobiography provides no additional chronological information about the remaining three songs, we are not reduced to idle speculation concerning two of these. On musical evidence it is apparent that the “Introduction to Promenade” was adapted from “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight,” one of the earliest songs drafted for the show.27 It will also be observed shortly that the principal melody of “Without You” is partially derived from Higgins's “I'm an Ordinary Man,” completed nearly a year before rehearsals.28 Loewe's holograph piano-vocal score manuscripts of My Fair Lady songs verify Lerner's remark that this last-mentioned song underwent “one or two false starts.”29 Harrison described one of these as “inferior Noel Coward.”30 (In other differences with the published vocal score the holograph of “You Did It” contains a shortened introduction and a considerable amount of additional but mostly repetitive material.31)
Of great importance for the peformance practice of Higgins's role was the decision to allow the professor to talk his way into a song or a new phrase of a song. In “I'm an Ordinary Man,” “A Hymn to Him,” and “I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” audiences have long been accustomed to hear Higgins speak lines that are underscored by orchestral melody; the pitches are usually indicated in the vocal part by X's, recalling the notation of Schoenberg's Sprechstimme in Pierrot Lunaire. The first of many examples of this occurs at the beginning of “I'm an Ordinary Man.” This move from song to speech probably occurred during the course of rehearsals. In any event, the holograph scores almost invariably indicate that these passages were originally meant to be sung.32
In their most significant departure from their source Lerner and Loewe altered Shaw's ending to allow a romantic resolution between Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. Shaw strenuously argued against this Cinderella interpretation, but he would live to regret that his original concluding lines in 1912 allow the possibility that Eliza, who has metamorphosed into “a tower of strength, a consort battleship,” will return to live with Higgins and Pickering as an independent woman, one of “three old bachelors together insead (p.232) of only two men and a silly girl.”33 While in his original text Shaw expresses Higgins's confidence that Eliza will return with the requested shopping list, for the next forty years the playwright would quixotically try to establish his unwavering intention that Higgins and Eliza would never marry.34 Here are the final lines of Shaw's play:
I'm afraid you've spoilt that girl, Henry. But never mind, dear: I'll buy you the tie and glove.
(sunnily) Oh, don't bother. She'll buy 'em all right enough. Goodbye. (They kiss. MRS. HIGGINS runs out. HIGGINS, left alone, rattles his cash in his pocket; chuckles; and disports himself in a highly self-satisfied manner.)
Despite Shaw's unequivocal interpretation—and long before Pascal's Pygmalion film in 1938 or the My Pair Lady musical in 1956—the original Higgins, Beerbohm Tree, had already taken liberties that would distort the play beyond Shaw's tolerance. In reporting on the 1914 London premiere to his wife Charlotte, Shaw wrote: “For the last two acts I writhed in hell. … The last thing I saw as I left the house was Higgins shoving his mother rudely out of his way and wooing Eliza with appeals to buy ham for his lonely home like a bereaved Romeo.”35 Mrs. Patrick Campbell, for whom Shaw created the role of Eliza, urged the playwright to attend another performance “soon—or you'll not recognize your play.”36
When he summoned enough courage to attend the hundredth performance, Shaw was appalled to discover that “in the brief interval between the end of the play and fall of the curtain, the amorous Higgins threw flowers at Eliza (and with them Shaw's instructions far out of sight).”37 To make explicit what he had perhaps naively assumed would be understood, Shaw published a sequel to Pygmalion in 1916, in which he explained in detail why Eliza and Higgins could not and should not be considered as potential romantic partners.
Considering his strong ideas on the subject, it is surprising that Shaw permitted Pascal to further alter the ending (and many other parts) of Shaw's original screenplay for the 1938 Pygmalion film in order to create the impression that Higgins and Eliza would in fact unite. Perhaps Shaw was unaware that Pascal had actually filmed two other endings, including Shaw's. In 1941 Penguin Books published a version of Shaw's screenplay, which included reworked versions of five film scenes that were not part of the original play:
2. Higgins's housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, giving Eliza a bath in the middle of act II;
3. Eliza's lessons with Higgins at the end of act II;
4. The Embassy Ball at the end of act III (this scene is based on the Embassy Ball in the film—another Cinderella image—that replaced the ambassador's garden party, dinner, and opera that took place offstage in the play);
5. Eliza's meeting with Freddy when she leaves Higgins's residence at the end of act IV.
In his book on Shaw's films, The Serpent's Eye, Donald P. Costello carefully details and explains how the printed screenplay departs from the actual film.38 Perhaps not surprisingly, the most dramatic departure between what was filmed and the published screenplay occurred at the work's conclusion. This is what filmgoers saw and heard in the film:
Eliza's voice is heard coming out of the phonograph:
ELIZA'S VOICE .
Ah-ah-ah-ah-ow-ow-oo-oo!! I ain't dirty: I washed my face and hands afore I come, I did.
HIGGINS'S VOICE .
I shall make a duchess of this draggletailed guttersnipe.
ELIZA'S VOICE .
HIGGINS'S VOICE .
In six months … (Higgins switches off the phonograph. Close-up of Higgins's sorrowful face.) Eliza enters the room, unseen by Higgins. He hears her voice, speaking with perfect lady-like diction, soft, gentle, lovingly.
I washed my face and hands before I came. As Higgins turns to look at Eliza, the ballroom theme begins once more. Higgins looks at Eliza tenderly. Cut to a close-up of Eliza, looking back at him. Higgins just begins to smile; then he recollects himself, and says sternly, as the camera looks only at the back of his head:
Where the devil are my slippers, Eliza? As the ballroom theme swells into a crescendo, a fade-out from the back of Higgins's head. The lilting music of the ballroom waltz is heard as “The End” and the cast are flashed upon the screen.39
Before the 1941 publication of the screenplay (as altered by Pascal), however, Shaw managed to have the last word. It appeared in a letter of corrections from August 19, 1939:
After submitting this final ending, Shaw parenthetically inserted the following remark: “I should like to have a dozen pulls of the corrected page to send to the acting companies.”40
I'm afraid you've spoilt that girl, Henry. I should be uneasy about you and her if she were less fond of Colonel Pickering.
Pickering! Nonsense: she's going to marry Freddy. Ha ha! Freddy! Freddy!! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!! (He roars with laughter as the play ends.)
When asked in an interview why he acquiesced to a “happy” ending in Pascal's film, Shaw replied somewhat archly that he could not “conceive a less happy ending to the story of ‘Pygmalion’ than a love affair between the middle-aged, middle-class professor, a confirmed old bachelor with a mother-fixation, and a flower girl of 18.”41 According to Shaw, “nothing of the kind was emphasised in my scenario, where I emphasised the escape of Eliza from the tyranny of Higgins by a quite natural love affair with Freddy.” Shaw even goes so far as to claim that Leslie Howard's “lovelorn complexion … is too inconclusive to be worth making a fuss about.” Despite Shaw's desire to grasp at this perceived ambiguity and despite the fact that audiences of both film and musical do not actually see Eliza fetch Higgins's slippers, most members of these audiences will probably conclude that Freddy is not a romantic alternative.
Shaw's denial to the contrary, the romanticization of Pygmalion introduced by Beerbohm Tree during the initial 1914 London run of the play was complete in the 1938 film. As Costello writes: “What remains, after a great deal of omission, is the clear and simple situation of a Galatea finally being fully created by her Pygmalion, finally asserting her own individual soul, and, becoming independent, being free to choose. She chooses Higgins.”42
The stage was now set for My Fair Lady, where the phonetics lesson introduced in the film would be developed still further, Alfred P. Doolittle would be observed on his own Tottenham Court Road turf (and given two songs to sing there, one in each act), and a new and more colorful setting at Ascot would replace Mrs. Higgins's home (act III of Shaw). Again following the film, My Fair Lady deleted many of Doolittle's lines, especially his philosophical musing on middle-class morality.43
If Lerner and Loewe did not invent a romantic pairing between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, they succeeded in contradicting Shaw still more completely (albeit more believably), a task made difficult by Higgins's extraordinary misogyny, rudeness, and insensitivity in Shaw's original (p.235) play. Using the Pascal film as its guide, the Broadway Pygmalion therefore made Higgins less misogynist and generally more likable and Eliza less crude, more attractive, and more lovable than their counterparts in Shaw's play and screenplay and Pascal's film. Perhaps more significantly, Lerner and Loewe prepared the eventual match of Higgins and Eliza when they created two moments in song that depict their shared triumph, “The Rain in Spain” and Eliza's gloriously happy “I Could Have Danced All Night” that shortly follows.
Lerner and Loewe would also go beyond the film with several liberties of omission and commission to help musical audiences accept the unlikely but much-wished-for romantic liaison between the antagonistic protagonists. More important, not only did Lerner remove all references to Higgins's “mother fixation,” he gave Higgins compassion to match his brilliance. In order to achieve Higgins's metamorphosis from a frog to a prince, Lerner added a speech of encouragement—a song would be overkill—not found in either the film or published screenplay. Significantly, it is this newly created speech that leads directly to Eliza's mastery of the English language as she finally utters the magic words, “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” with impeccable and lady-like diction.44
In this central speech Higgins, in contrast to the play and screen versions, demonstrates an awareness of what his subject might be feeling and suffering: “Eliza, I know you're tired. I know your head aches. I know your nerves are as raw as meat in a butcher's window.” After extolling the virtues of “the majesty and grandeur of the English language,” Higgins for the first time offers encouragement to his human experiment: “That's what you've set yourself to conquer, Eliza. and conquer it you will. … Now, try it again.”45
A Cinderella Musical with an Extraordinary Woman
After conveying Higgins's humanity by the end of act I Lerner and Loewe tried in their second act to make musically explicit what Shaw implies or omits in his drama. Not only does Eliza now possess the strength and independence of “a consort battleship” admired by Higgins in Shaw's play. After the Embassy Ball in My Pair Lady the heroine now in fact has the psychological upper hand as well. Clearly, Lerner and Loewe romanticized, and therefore falsified, Shaw's intentions. At the same time they managed to reveal Eliza's metamorphosis as Higgins's equal through lyrics and music more clearly than either Shaw's play or screenplay and Pascal's (p.236)
In act I of My Fair Lady Eliza, in response to her initial humiliation prompted by her inability to negotiate the proper pronunciation of the letter “a” and to Higgins's heartless denial of food (recalling Petruchio's method of “taming” Kate in Kiss Me, Kate), sputters her ineffectual dreams of vengeance in “Just You Wait” (Example 11.1a).46 Eliza sings a brief reprise of this song in act II after Higgins and the uncharacteristically inconsiderate Pickering display a callous disregard for Eliza's part in her Embassy Ball triumph (“You Did It”). Eliza will also incorporate the tune at various moments in “Without You,” for example, when she sings “And there still will be rain on that plain down in Spain” (Example 11.1b).
The opening phrase of the chorus in “Without You,” Eliza's ode to independence, consists of a transformation into the major mode of “Just You Wait.” Its first four notes also inconspicuously recall Higgins's second song of act I, “I'm an Ordinary Man,” when he first leaves speech for song on the words “who desires” (Example 11.1c). By this subtle transformation audiences can subliminally hear as well as directly see that the tables have begun to turn as Eliza adopts Higgins's musical characteristics. At the same time Higgins transforms Eliza into a lady, by the end of the evening Eliza (p.238) (and her music) will have successfully transformed Higgins into a gentleman.
To reinforce this dramatic reversal, Higgins himself recapitulates Eliza's “Just You Wait” material in both the minor and major modes of his final song, “I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (Example 11. Id). At this point in the song Higgins is envisaging the “infantile idea” of Eliza's marrying Freddy.47 The verbal and dramatic parallels between Higgins's and Eliza's revenge on their respective tormentors again suggest the reversal of their roles through song.
Higgins's “I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face” in act II also offers a musical demonstration of a dramatic transformation needed to convince audiences that Eliza's return is as plausible as it is desirable. In the fast sections of “I'm an Ordinary Man” in act I Higgins explains the discomforting effect of women on his orderly existence (Example 11.2a). Higgins's dramatic transformation in his final song is most clearly marked by tempo and dynamics, but the melodic change is equally significant if less immediately obvious.48 As shown in Example 11.2b, no longer does Higgins move up an ascending scale to reach his destination like a “motor bus” (Eliza's description in Shaw's act V). For one thing, the destination of the opening line, “She almost makes the day begin,” is the fourth degree of the scale (F in the key of C) on the final syllable rather than the first degree. For another, Higgins now precedes the resolution with the upper note G to soften the momentum of the ascending scale. Thus a lyrical Higgins, who sings more and talks less, conveys how he misses his Eliza. Eventually within the song this lyricism (to be sung con tenerezza or tenderly) will conquer the other side of his emotions, embodied in his dream of Eliza's humiliation.
The reuse of “Just You Wait” and the transformation of the “but let a woman in your life” portions of “I'm an Ordinary Man” into “I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face” provide the most telling musical examples of Higgins's dramatic transformation. The far less obvious transformation of “I'm an Ordinary Man” into “Without You” mentioned earlier (Example 11.1c) provides additional musical evidence of the power reversal between Higgins and Eliza in the second act of My Fair Lady.49
Although they lack the immediate recognizability of these melodic examples, the most frequent musical unities, however, are rhythmic ones, with or without attendant melodic profiles. The middle section of “Just You Wait,” for example, anticipates the rhythm of “Get Me to the Church on Time” (Example 11.3a). The eighteenth-century Alberti bass in the accompaniment of this section, which suggests the propriety of classical music, (p.239)
It is possible that Lerner and Loewe intended to link the central characters rhythmically by giving them songs that begin with an upbeat. In act I both parts of Higgins's “Ordinary Man,” the main melody of Doolittle's “A Little Bit of Luck,” and Eliza's “I Could Have Danced All Night” all begin with three-note upbeats. Eliza's “Just You Wait,” Freddy's “On the Street Where You Live,” and “Ascot Gavotte” each open with a two-note upbeat and “The Rain in Spain” employs a one-note upbeat.
Dramatic meaning for all these upbeats may be found by looking at the two songs in act I that begin squarely on the downbeat, “Why Can't the English?” and “Wouldn't It Be Loverly?” Significantly, these songs, the first two of the show, are rhetorical questions sung by Higgins and Eliza respectively before their relationship has begun. Clearly Higgins, in speaking about matters of language and impersonal intellectual matters plants his feet firmly on solid ground. Similarly, the strong downbeats of Eliza's opening song demonstrate her earthiness and directness. Once Higgins has encountered Eliza in his study and sings “I'm an Ordinary Man,” Lerner and Loewe let us know that Higgins is on less firm territory and can no longer begin his songs on the downbeat. After Eliza begins her lessons with Higgins, she too becomes unable to begin a song directly on the downbeat. As Doolittle becomes conventional and respectable, he too will begin respectably on the downbeat in his second-act number, “Get Me To the Church On Time.”50
During the New Haven tryouts a few songs continued to present special problems. One of these songs, “Come to the Ball,” Lerner and Loewe's second attempt to give Higgins a song of encouragement for Eliza (p.241) prior to the Embassy Ball, was dropped after one performance.51 Although Lerner never seemed to accept its removal, his more objective collaborators, Loewe and especially director Moss Hart, understood why the show works better for its absence: while it endorses Eliza's physical beauty, it simply does not offer her any other reason to attend the ball. Despite the current predilection of reinstating deleted numbers from Broadway classics, it seems unlikely that audiences will soon be hearing “Come to the Ball” in its original context.
The crucial role of Hart (the librettist of Lady in the Dark) in the development of Lerner's book should not go unnoticed. Even if the full extent of his contribution cannot be fully measured, Lerner readily acknowledged that the director went over every word with the official librettist over a four-day marathon weekend in late November 1955.52 Several of Hart's major suggestions during the rehearsal and tryout process can be more accurately gauged. In addition to requesting the deletion of “Come to the Ball,” we know from Lerner's autobiography that Hart persuaded Lerner and Loewe to remove “a ballet that occurred between Ascot and the ball scene and 'Say a Prayer for Me Tonight'.”53 To fill the resulting gap near the end of act I Lerner “wrote a brief scene which skipped directly from Ascot to the night before the ball.”54
The other major song marked for extinction after opening night in New Haven was “On the Street Where You Live.” In both his autobiography and his recorded presentation of songs from My Fair Lady, Lerner discussed the negative response to this song, his own desire to retain it, his failure to understand why it failed, and his solution to the problem several days later.55 For Lerner, the “mute disinterest” that greeted this song was due to the fact that audiences were unable to distinguish Freddy Eynesford-Hill from the other gentlemen at Ascot.56 Lerner's autobiography relates how he gave Freddy a new verse to help audiences remember him; in his live performance Lerner explains a revision in which for the sake of clarity Freddy has the maid ask him to identify himself by name. In Lerner's view the positive response to this change was vindication enough. Certainly “On the Street Where You Live” remains the most frequently performed song outside the context of the show.
The rich afterlife of “On the Street Where You Live” as an independent song may provide a clue as to why everyone else concerned with the show (other than Lerner) was willing, even eager, to cut this future hit after it failed to register on its opening night audience. Lehman Engel, an astute and sensitive Broadway critic and a staunch proponent of the integrated musical, writes that when he sees a musical for the first time “the highest (p.242) compliment anyone can pay” is to not be conscious of the songs.”57 The absence of such awareness “indicates that all of the elements worked together so integrally that I was aware only of the total effect.”
Engel's reaction to My Fair Lady expresses the problem clearly:
I had a similar response to My Fair Lady the first time [that like Fiddler On the Roof, the elements worked integrally], but I did hear “On the Street Where You Live” and I believe this happened for two reasons. In the first place, nothing else was going on when the song was sung; the singing character was simply (and intentionally) stupid—nothing complex about that.58 But secondly I heard the song because I disliked it intensely. (I love everything else in the score. But this song, to me, did not fit.) It was the picture that shoved its way out of the frame with a bang. Suddenly there was a “pop” song that had strayed into a score otherwise brilliant, integrated, with a great sense of the play's own style and a faithful, uncompromising exposition of characters and situations.
Although much of My Fair Lady departs from Shaw's play, its Cinderella slant nevertheless constitutes an extraordinarily faithful adaptation to Pascal's filmed revision of Shaw's original screenplay. Moreover, the music of My Fair Lady for the most part accurately serves most of Shaw's textual ideas. Additionally, the songs themselves, which are carefully prepared and advance the action in the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition, convey the dramatic meaning that underlies this action.
One critical quandary remains. Just as Higgins neglects to consider the question of what is to become of Eliza, Lerner and Loewe's popular adaptation of My Fair Lady poses the problem of what is to become of Shaw's Pygmalion, a play which noted literary critics, including Harold Bloom, consider to be the playwright's masterpiece.59 The relative decline of Shaw's Pygmalion in the wake of My Fair Lady seems especially lamentable.60
But even measured by Shavian standards, Lerner and Loewe's classic musical is by no means overshadowed on artistic grounds. Readers of Shaw's play know, as Shaw knew, that Higgins would “never fall in love with anyone under forty-five.”61 Indeed, marrying Freddy might have its drawbacks, but marrying Higgins would be unthinkable. It is the ultimate achievement of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady that the unthinkable has become the probable.
(p.243) Two years after My Fair Lady Lerner and Loewe completed Gigi, the Academy Award-winning film adaptation of a Colette novella. Not wishing to argue with success, Gigi, like My Fair Lady, tells the story of a young woman who ends up with an older man—Cinderella revisited. The final Broadway collaboration appeared two years later, Camelot (1960), a partially successful attempt to recycle a production team (director Hart and Julie Andrews as Guenevere, as well as a new, acclaimed, nonsinging actor in the Harrison tradition, Richard Burton, as King Arthur). The box office magic of the My Fair Lady “team” and a long televised segment on the Ed Sullivan Show helped Camelot (the positive associations with President Kennedy came later) to survive its extraordinarily bad critical press, growing tensions between Lerner and Loewe, and Lerner's hospitalization for bleeding ulcers. Perhaps the most devastating blow of all was Hart's sudden heart attack and hospitalization, which forced the director to assume the unaccustomed role of patient rather than that of play doctor, a role he had performed so irreplaceably on My Fair Lady.
Even those who feel that Eliza should have gone off into the sunset (or the fog) with Freddy rather than the misogynist Higgins might have second thoughts about Guenevere's decision to abandon her likable and desirable husband Arthur for the younger but boorish and egotistical Lancelot. As Engel writes: “It is not lack of fidelity that makes for our dissatisfaction but an unmotivated, rather arbitrary choice that seemed to make no sense.”62
After Camelot, Lerner and Loewe would adapt Gigi for Broadway in 1973 (it ran for only three months). One year later they would work together on new material one last time in the film The Little Prince. With the exceptions of these brief returns, Loewe, who had collaborated exclusively with Lerner ever since What's Up ? in 1943, retired on his laurels and died quietly in 1988. The more restless Lerner, who as early as the 1940s had teamed up with Weill on Love Life one year after Brigadoon, would collaborate with Burton Lane within five years after Camelot to create the modestly successful On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
For his last twenty years Lerner without Loewe—and, in some respects equally unfortunately, without Hart, who died in 1961—would produce one failure after another. Not even the star quality of Katharine Hepburn in Coco (1970) could help this show with music by André Previn to run more than a year. A potentially promising collaboration with the brilliant Leonard Bernstein in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976) closed within a week out of town. Other short-lived post-Camelot musicals included Lolita, My (p.244) Love (1972), Carmelina (1979), and Dance a Little Closer (1983) with music composed by John Barry, Lane, and Charles Strouse, respectively. At the time of his death in 1986, the indefatigable librettist-lyricist had drafted much of a libretto and several lyrics for yet another musical, this time based on the classic 1936 film comedy, My Man Godfrey.63
(1.) My Fair Lady's performance run was not surpassed until nearly a decade later by Hello Dolly! in 1971.
(2.) Walter Kerr, “‘My Fair Lady’,” New York Herald Tribune, 16 March 1956; quoted in Steven Suskin, 470–71 (quotation on 470); reprinted in New York Theatre Critics’ Reviews, vol. 17, 346.
(3.) William Hawkins, “‘My Fair Lady’ Is a Smash Hit,” New York World-Telegram and The Sun, 16 March 1956; quoted in Suskin, 470; reprinted in New York Theatre Critics’ Reviews, vol. 17, 347.
(5.) Robert Coleman, “‘My Fair Lady’ Is A Glittering Musical,” Daily Mirror, 16 March 1956; quoted in Suskin, 470; reprinted in New York Theatre Critics’ Reviews, vol. 17, 345.
(6.) John Chapman, “‘My Fair Lady’ a Superb, Stylish Musical Play with a Perfect Cast,” Daily News, 16 March 1956; quoted in Suskin, 468 and 470 (quotation on 468); reprinted in New York Theatre Critics’ Reviews, 17, 345.
(7.) Hawkins, “‘My Fair Lady’,” 347; Suskin, 470.
(8.) Brooks Atkinson, “Theatre: ‘My Fair Lady’,” New York Times, 16 March 1956, 20; quoted in Suskin, 468. reprinted in New York Theatre Critics’ Reviews, 17, 347.
(9.) Gene Lees and The New Grove Dictionary of American Music and The New Grove Dictionary of Opera annotator William W. Deguire give 1901 as the date for the composer's birth (some earlier sources say 1904). Although Lees remains curiously noncommittal in attributing the city of Loewe's birth (Berlin or Vienna), Berlin is the setting for all the biographical material that he offers for Loewe's early years. Lees, 12–16; and William W. Deguire, “Loewe, Frederick,” The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, ed. H. Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1985), vol. 2,101–3, and The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1992), vol. 2, 1306.
(10.) Lees, 14.
(11.) It was noted in the previous chapter that the revue The Illustrators Show, which folded after five performances, also marked the Broadway debut of Loesser, who wrote the lyrics of several Irving Actman songs for this same show.
(12.) Dan H. Laurence, ed., Bernard Shaw Collected Letters 1926–1950 (New York: Viking, 1988), 528.
(13.) Laurence, ed., Bernard Shaw Collected Letters 1911–1925, (New York: Viking, 1985), 730–31. It is clear from this letter, however, that Shaw's motives were as much financial as they were artistic.
(14.) Laurence, ed., Collected Letters 1926–1950, 817.
(15.) Lerner, 30–135. See also Stephen Citron, Wordsmiths, 261–64, and Keith Garebian, The Making of “My Fair Lady” (Toronto: ECW Press, 1993).
(16.) Lerner, 36.
(17.) Ibid., 38. In Lees's undocumented claim, Lerner and Loewe “knew that he [Pascal] had previously approached Rodgers and Hammerstein, Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, Cole Porter, and E. Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy, all of whom had turned the project down as fraught with insoluble book problems.” Lees, 88.
(18.) Lerner, 43–44.
(19.) In contrast to the Rodgers and Hammerstein prototype, in which the secondary characters (p.379) show some emotional or comic bond and sing to or about one another, My Fair Lady audiences never actually meet Doolittle's bride.
(20.) “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight” would be abandoned in the Broadway version of Gigi (1973).
(21.) Lerner, 50. Before it became My Fair Lady, Lady Liza was the show's working title.
(22.) Harrison attributed his idiosyncratic combination of speaking and singing to conductor Bill Low. According to Harrison, Low informed him that “there is such a thing as talking on pitch—using only those notes that you want to use, picking them out of the score, sometimes more, sometimes less. For the rest of the time, concentrate on staying on pitch, even though youʼre only speaking.” Harrison, 108.
(23.) Lerner, 65. Harrison places his meeting with Lerner, Loewe, and their lawyer, Herman Levin, several months later “in the summer of 1955 … in the middle of the London run of Bell, Book and Candle.” Harrison, 106.
(24.) Lyricist-composers Porter and Loesser similarly gave their songs a title before composing a tune. Lerner also shared the frustrations suffered by fellow lyricist-librettist Hammerstein. While falling somewhat short of Rodgers's legendary speed (e.g., “Bali Haʼi” allegedly in five minutes, “Happy Talk” in twenty), the comparative ease and rapidity with which Loewe composed melodies was a fate that Lerner too had to endure.
(25.) Lerner, 70.
(26.) Lerner places the creation of “The Rain in Spain,” his one “unexpected visitation from the muses,” during a spontaneous ten-minute period after an audition (Lerner, 87). Harrison contradicts Lerner when he recalls hearing “The Rain in Spain” along with “Lady Liza” and “Please Don't Marry Me” at his initial London meeting with Lerner, Loewe, and Levin. Harrison, 107.
(27.) Just as “Say a Prayer” would return two years later in the film Gigi, the main theme of “Promenade” would return in both the film and subsequent stage versions of this show as “She Is Not Thinking of Me.”
(28.) The chronology of “The Servants' Chorus” must remain conjectural. The most likely hypothesis is that it followed the inception of “The Rain in Spain” during rehearsals. The fact that the lyrics were added in pen in the Library of Congress holograph score suggests, but does not confirm, that they were a late addition.
(29.) Lerner, 70.
(30.) Ibid., 79. The earlier version of “Why Can't the English?,” the lyrics of which Lerner discusses in his autobiography (79–80), can be found on the reverse sides of three song holographs in the Loewe Collection of the Library of Congress: “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Show Me,” and “On the Street Where She Lives” (original title). Larry Stempel notes their presence and their “Coward touch,” as exemplified in “Mad Dogs and Englishman,” in the first two of these holograph scores. See Stempel, “Musical Play,” 166, n. 18.
(31.) The holograph does not display a text over the underscoring as found on the vocal score (152 and 159) or the right-hand accompaniment figure that is prominently featured a little later (160 and 161). Also in the holograph the word “aren’” (to rhyme with “foreign”) appears as “aren't.”
(32.) A complete list for the spoken passages in the three mentioned Higgins songs follows: “Iʼm an Ordinary Man” (“Iʼm an ordinary man,” “But let a … ” [all three times], “Iʼm a very gentle man,” and “Iʼm a quiet-living man”) [the final spoken “Let a woman in your life” does not appear on the holograph in any form]; “A Hymn To Him” (“What in all of Heaven could have prompted her to … ” [the next word “go” is sung] and “Why can't a … ” [the next word “woman” is sung]; and “Iʼve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” (“I can see her now,” “In a … ,” and “Iʼm a most forgiving man”).
Despite this increased tendency to replace song with speech-song, the holograph indicates that some passages were originally spoken. For example: “A Hymn to Him” (p.380) (“Why can't a woman be like that?,” “Why can't a woman be like you?,” and “Why can't a woman be like us?”); and “Iʼve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” (“Damn!! Damn!! Damn!! Damn!!” and “Iʼve grown accustomed to her face!” at the beginning of the song, and later the “quasi recitative” “Poor Eliza! How simply frightful! How humiliating! How delightful!”). It should also be noted that the holograph of the opening three syllables in Doolittle's “With A Little Bit Of Luck,” “The Lord a-,” indicates three sung pitches, a rising scale G-A-B leading to a C on “-bove.”
(33.) George Bernard Shaw Pygmalion/Alan Jay Lerner My Fair Lady (New York: Signet, 1975), 88.
(34.) As late as February 23, 1948, ten years after the film version of Pygmalion, Shaw would write, “I absolutely forbid the Campbell interpolation [‘What size’] or any suggestion that the middle-aged bully and the girl of eighteen are lovers.” Laurence, ed., Collected Letters 1926–1950, 815.
(35.) Laurence, ed., Collected Letters 1911–1925, 227.
(36.) Michael Holroyd, Bernard Shaw, Volume II, 1898–1918, The Pursuit of Power (New York: Random House, 1989), 339.
(38.) Costello. Costello discusses each of the fourteen scenes that appear in the film but not its screenplay; he also offers a useful appendix, “From Play To Screen Play To Sound Track: A Textual Comparison Of Three Versions Of Act V of Shaw's Pygmalion.”
(39.) Costello, 187–88.
(40.) Laurence, ed., Collected Letters 1926–1950, 532–33.
(41.) Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, 93–94. The remaining quotations in this paragraph can be found on p. 94.
(42.) Costello, 76.
(43.) Considering its indebtedness to the Pascal film, it is not surprising that on the title page of the My Fair Lady vocal score, Lerner and Loewe were requested to include the phrase “adapted from Bernard Shaw's ‘Pygmalion’ produced on the screen by Gabriel Pascal,” and that Pascal would receive 1 percent of the My Fair Lady royalties. Costello, 68.
(44.) The exercises themselves appeared in the film (but not the published screenplay): “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” for vowels and “in Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire hurricanes hardly ever happen” for aspirate h's. See the production photograph on p. 236.
(45.) Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, 140.
(46.) The opening notes of Loewe's melody are identical to the opening of Brahms's intermezzo for piano in C♯ minor, op. 117, no. 3. On the subject of musical quotation, Tosca's “Non la sospiri la nostra casetta” in act I of her opera bears an uncanny melodic resemblance to Doolittle's “With a Little Bit of Luck.” In contrast to Blitzstein's and Bernstein's classical borrowings, neither of these possible My Fair Lady borrowings were apparently chosen to make a dramatic point.
(47.) Swain, 196.
(49.) More remote and perhaps unintentional are the melodic correspondences between the opening A sections of “On the Street Where You Live” and “Iʼve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” In any event, it makes sense that a dramatically transformed Higgins would sing a variation of Freddy's lovesick tune. After all, Higgins could easily have heard Freddy's song on any number of the many occasions Eliza's would-be suitor performed it under his window. Although the causes are less dramatically explicable, it is also arguable that “On the Street Where You Live” is melodically derived from “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
(50.) It might be recalled that the rhythm of “Get Me to the Church on Time” was anticipated in the middle portion of “Just You Wait,” where it was preceded by an upbeat.
(p.381) (51.) The full text of “Come to the Ball” is located in B. Green, 109–10. Loewe's holograph score can be found in folder 15 of the Loewe Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.
(52.) Lerner, 88–89.
(54.) Ibid, 106–7. Lerner went on to explain how “quite unwittingly, the new scene also solved our one major costume problem.” In contrast to the original ball scene when Eliza's elegant gown was unable to stand out from the splendor of the other gowns, “in the new scene she appeared at the top of the stairs in Higgins’ house in her ball gown, and the audience broke into applause.” Ibid., 108.
(55.) The original text of “On the Street Where You Live” appears in B. Green, 96. Lerner's remarks and the opening night version of this song were recorded on December 12,1971, in a live performance (Book-of-the-Month Records 70–5240).
(56.) Shaw introduces Freddy and his ineffectual attempts to hail a cab as well as his sister Clara in act I; Lerner and Loewe do not present Freddy until Ascot, and they drop the role of Clara altogether.
(57.) Engel, Words With Music, 116. All quotations in this and the following paragraph can be found on p. 116.
(58.) In contrast to Engel, Lerner described “the flagrantly romantic lyric that kept edging on the absurd” as “exactly right for the character.” Lerner, 106.
(59.) Harold Bloom, ed., George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (New York: Chelsea House, 1988), vii and 1–10.
(60.) The demise of Dorothy and DuBose Heyward's Porgy, Sidney Howard's They Knew What They Wanted, and even Ferenc Molnár's Liliom, and their displacement by Porgy and Bess, The Most Happy Fella, and Carousel has been accepted with equanimity by theater audiences and producers. Fortunately, Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet have so far been spared a similar fate.
(61.) Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, 43. The original Mrs. Patrick Campbell was a youthful forty-eight at the time she introduced the role of Eliza.
(62.) Engel, Words With Music, 87.
(63.) For all of Lerner's shows after Camelot see B. Green for Lerner's lyrics, and, in the case of My Man Godfrey, his outline and scenario.