My Fair Lady A Timeless Classic with a Modern Twist
Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady is on tour after a thrilling revival at Lincoln Center Theater. Deemed “Plush and thrilling!” by The New York Times, this modern twist on a beloved classic comes to FIM Whiting Auditorium on Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
My Fair Lady, based on the 1913 play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who undergoes a complete transformation after taking speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins.
Ella McAndrew, director of programming at Whiting Auditorium, explained that My Fair Lady is considered to be one of the best and most perfect musicals of all time.
How can “perfect” be improved? For Bartlett Sher, the show’s director, it was important to focus the story more on Eliza than Higgins. In traditional Cinderella stories, the hero is the recipient of magic and good fortune. But in My Fair Lady, Eliza is the driving force, and she works diligently to achieve her dream.
“Essentially, we track her journey,” said Sher. “I felt we had to re-center the piece around the person who, in plot terms, you really follow, which is Eliza. So a lot of the work, including design work, went into repositioning the show behind her,” he said.
Sher, who directed award-winning revivals of South Pacific and The King and I, is known for bringing a contemporary perspective to classic shows while honoring the original production. The beloved score, including favorites like “Wouldn’t It be Loverly,” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” is performed by a full-sized orchestra playing the original 1956 arrangements by Robert Russell Bennett and Phil Lang.
This production of My Fair Lady was tweaked to honor George Bernard Shaw’s vision in Pygmalion, skewing a bit less romantic than its original adaptation. He explained that the sociological experiment of taking a girl from the lowest class, transforming her language and having her accepted into the upper class was a revolutionary idea for his time.
“[Shaw] really believed that drama can change the world, and you see that in Pygmalion. It’s both a comedy and an extraordinary play of ideas,” said Sher.
There’s even a slight difference in the interpretation of the ending – but no spoilers will be given here. Eliza’s strength of character and personal agency, however, is a key distinction between previous versions and the latest iteration of the show.
“I think the reason this story has become so beloved through time is that it reiterates that what’s inside matters, no matter what outside forces try to say or do,” said McAndrew. “Who we are is truly enough. That in and of itself is a powerful journey.”