My Fair Lady
directed by Robert Cohen, with Donald McKayle, choreographer; Dennis Castellano, musical director
A production based on the notion that, despite Shaw’s caustic disclaimers, Pygmalion is in fact a love story and so, therefore, is My Fair Lady.
“a magnificent staging of the hit Broadway musical… all the elements fell blissfully into place and this certified near-antique of a musical glowed with a professional luster.” –Daily Pilot/latimes.com in its annual year-end piece which honored the production as “best college show of 2002, Cohen as “Man of the Year” for 2002, and Michael Morgan as the year’s best actor for his portrayal of Henry Higgins.
“A CROWN JEWEL AT UCI. ‘Inspired’ is, indeed, the word to describe the UCI production [which] is given a superb rendition in all artistic phases – performance, music and dance. …This is a “My Fair Lady” that even those who have seen the show a dozen times will find breathtaking and, dare we say it, ‘different.’ The ‘surprise twist’ that Cohen has promised arrives at the last possible moment and puts a new, quite plausible spin on Shaw’s original scheme – a ‘Fair Lady’ for the 21st century. The elegant UCI production… [is] a landmark in the university’s theatre history.” —Daily Pilot/latimes.com
Director’s program note
My Fair Lady may be the greatest American musical of all time. It’s also one of the oddest. Though it has a large singing and dancing chorus, most of the choral characters have no direct connection to the play’s main story (of which most of them are largely unaware), nor does choral song and dance open or even close the show, which is instead book-ended by its two principals, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, who, uniquely in musical theatre history, constitute the only characters on stage during the last three scenes of the play.
More surprisingly, while the play falls clearly within the genre of romantic (musical) comedy, its two “romantic” characters spend virtually all of the play fighting with each other. And nothing they sing could remotely be called a love duet.
What’s going on here? Well, as most people already know (and as the original Broadway poster made abundantly clear), My Fair Lady is adapted from the text of George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, which (according to conventional wisdom) ends with Eliza walking out on Professor Higgins. Moreover, Shaw declared in a narrative sequel to the play that it would be “unbearable” for Eliza to marry her Professor. In his sequel, Shaw even goes on to say that Eliza eventually marries Freddy, runs a flower shop in South Kensington Station, and then takes classes at the London School of Economics!
Most critics, taking Shaw at his word, have claimed that the musical’s adapters have bowed to audience taste by bringing Eliza back to Higgins’ house in the last scene, pasting-on a Shaw-reviled “happy ending” simply to please the Broadway audience. Thus Michael Billington, reviewing last year’s London production of My Fair Lady in The Guardian, calls the musical “a soft-centered betrayal of Shaw.”
But Mr. Billington is wrong. Shaw’s sequel is completely facetious. Pygmalion, which Shaw himself called “A Romance in Five Acts,” is obviously a romance from beginning to end. And what is more, we can prove it.
First, despite conventional recollection, Shaw doesn’t end his play with Eliza leaving Higgins, either for Freddy or the London School of Economics. In fact, Shaw doesn’t end his play at all! Yes, Eliza, in her final appearance in the play, “sweeps out” after saying, “I shall not see you again, Professor.” But as she leaves, Higgins calls after her and tells her to buy him some gloves, after which he “sunnily” (Shaw’s words) proclaims to his mother, “she’ll buy ‘em right enough.” At which point, he “chuckles and disports himself in a highly self-satisfied manner…” and the play comes to a crashing halt! For unlike all Shaw’s other plays, the end of the dialogue is not followed by the word “curtain,” but simply with a series of asterisks across the page – immediately below which Shaw cannily announces, “The rest of the story need not be shewn in action.” And he goes on to describe, in purely narrative fashion, what he’d like us to accept as the logical conclusion about what we’ve watched so far.
But this isn’t his conclusion. As with his mischievous spelling of shown (Shaw spells it shewn because, in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, show rhymes with shrew), Shaw is once again pulling our collective leg.
And how do we know he’s pulling our leg? By the title, of course. For why, if the play is not the happily-ending love story of a professor and his creation, would Shaw title it Pygmalion? Pygmalion, as his classically-educated audience would know full well, is the Cypriot sculptor of Greek myth who, falling in love with his sculpture of Galatea, prays Aphrodite to turn his statue into a living human so he can marry her. The goddess obliges, and Pygmalion marries Galatea and even fathers her children! Shaw’s title refers to this well-known, utterly-consummated love affair between an artist and his art. In the famous Gérôme painting of Pygmalion and Galatea, which Professor Goheen has featured in our set design, the figure of Eros (Cupid) and his archer’s bow even make their storied appearance. Shaw’s play is indeed, as he states on the title page, “a romance in five acts.”
Moreover, Shaw insisted that Eliza be performed, in play’s premiere, by the actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell (nearing fifty at the time), who was the love of his life.
Marry Freddy? Ha!