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ClassicsOnline Home » LOEWE, F.: My Fair Lady (Original Broadway Cast) (1956)
MY FAIR LADY, Original Broadway Cast 1956
Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner • Music by Frederick Loewe
LYRICS BY LERNER
Music by Loewe • Kaye Ballard & Alan Jay Lerner, vocals 1955
Alan Jay Lerner had eight wives; Frederick Loewe had almost as many yachts. Together they wrote some of the most glorious musicals of the 20th century. One would have thought that the man with the wives was the romantic and the one with the yachts was the realist, but in truth, it worked the other way around.
Loewe, whose personal affairs were always kept shadowy at best, was the one who provided the rich, emotional music that allowed their shows to sail off to Nirvana, while Lerner, the one who seemed to keep Cupid in his vest pocket, wrote the tart, worldly lyrics that made their songs such a perfect match.
Lerner grew up in a world of Eastern American wealth and privilege, with a philandering father who used to pretend he was at the boxing matches when he was visiting his mistress. One morning, Lerner’s mother asked who won the match. Lerner Sr guessed wrong and moved out that day.
Loewe, on the other hand came from a background of music, both highbrow symphonic and lowbrow coffee house. He embraced it all and loved it all.
Perhaps nowhere did the cultural marriage of these two odd men out come to such perfect fruition as in My Fair Lady, their 1956 musical which still stands as the perfect piece of musical theatre composition.
The amazing thing was how close it came to not happening, and how hairpin-sharp were the turnings of fate that allowed it to continue. Shortly after George Bernard Shaw died in 1950, Hungarian impresario Gabriel Pascal, who had acquired the film and theatre rights to many of the bearded genius’s works, started trying to generate a stage musical version of My Fair Lady.
Rodgers and Hammerstein laboured long and hard, only to finally throw in the towel, but when Lerner and Loewe picked up the torch, they found it scorching their fingers as well. Three songs they auditioned for Mary Martin caused her to lament that ‘the poor boys have lost their talent’ and they were about to give the whole project up when Lerner suddenly came up with a brilliant solution for musicalizing Shaw’s work. ‘I realized,’ said Lerner, ‘that all I had to do was write the things that Shaw said were happening offstage.’
From that moment on, the writing flowed swimmingly, but it was still no cakewalk to get the show onto the stage. In perhaps the smartest move anyone ever made, they hired Moss Hart as the director, one of the few men who could move equally between West End elegance and Broadway glitz.
Noel Coward, the first choice for Henry Higgins, declined rapidly and it was only after months of searching and pleading that Rex Harrison took on the role.
As Eliza Doolittle, Hart insisted that a fresh new talent was needed and he convinced everyone that 19 year old Julie Andrews, who had just dazzled Manhattan in The Boy Friend was the perfect choice. But one of the many problems was that Andrews’ fresh-faced innocence couldn’t stand up to the decades of Harrison’s stage and screen experience. In what has now become a legendary saga, Hart and Andrews spent a weekend alone in the theatre, working on Eliza Doolittle night and day. When she emerged, the result was triumphant.
Despite some technical glitches at the New Haven opening, and the complaint of overlength, the show was clearly a hit. (One of the casualties of the show’s running time, a lovely ballad called “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight” wound up in the score of Gigi, several years later.) When the show opened in New York on 15 March 1956, it was hailed as one of the grandest hits of all time. Seats became so hard to get that stories such as the following one were accepted as gospel:
A woman was at My Fair Lady with an empty seat next to her. Everyone wondered how it could happen. She explained that her husband had recently died. Other theatergoers wondered if one of her closer personal friends could have accompanied her.
‘Oh no,’ she demurred, ‘They’re at the funeral.’
The original My Fair Lady ran for six and a half years on Broadway, a record for its time. The quality and excitement of the performances from Andrews, Harrison, Stanley Holloway and the rest of the cast are easily audible on this recording, one of the best recorded shows of all time.
An extra bonus on this recording is Percy Faith and his Orchestra playing The Embassy Waltz, which brings down the Act I curtain. Due to problems of how much could be fitted on a standard LP disc in those days, it wasn't included in either of the original cast recordings – Broadway or London – but it makes a fine and complete addition to the score.
The joys of lesser Lerner are also available on this CD in the selection “Lyrics by Lerner”, which includes the composer and Kaye Ballard performing numbers from earlier shows such as The Day Before Spring (1945) and Brigadoon (1947).
The first was a saucy comedy about college swains returning to the stomping grounds of their youth to rediscover the truth about romance and from it, the marsala-voiced Kaye Ballard offers us the rueful truths behind A Jug Of Wine. Brigadoon is something else, a major hit show at the time which has slipped into quaint period piece status ever since. A new New York production with a strong anti-war message is being planned as we speak, but in the meantime, we have to content ourselves with the original and its more subtle links to the past.
On this recording, Ballard takes the major female solos such us The Heather On The Hill and Love Of My Life, but the astonishing single job of autobiographical reclamation goes to Lerner. Singing the revelatory solo of his hero, Tommy, There But For You Go I, Lerner makes us evaluate his entire romantic life, past and present. It’s one of those revealing moments when an author allows himself to put his feelings on the line and let us understand what he was really thinking all along. Anyone interested in the life of Alan Jay Lerner and how it impacted on the shows he wrote, ought to listen to There But For You Go I and listen carefully.
The line that runs straight through to My Fair Lady’s I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face is straight and clear and undeniable.
These men knew how to write from the heart, about the heart.
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LOEWE, F.: My Fair Lady (Original Broadway Cast) (...