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My Fair Lady is a musical based upon George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins so that she can pass as a lady. Higgins takes credit for Eliza's success, but she realizes that she can now be independent and does not need him.

The musical's 1956 Broadwaymarker production was a smash hit, setting a new record for the longest run of any major musical theatre production in history. It was followed by a hit London production, a popular film version, and numerous revivals. It has been called "the perfect musical".


In the mid-1930s, film producer Gabriel Pascal acquired the rights to produce film versions of several of George Bernard Shaw's plays, Pygmalion among them. However, Shaw, having had a bad experience with The Chocolate Soldier, a Viennese operetta based on his play Arms and the Man, refused permission for Pygmalion to be adapted into a musical. After Shaw died in 1950, Pascal asked lyricist Alan Jay Lerner to write the musical adaptation. Lerner agreed. Lerner and his partner Frederick Loewe began work, but they quickly realized the play violated several key rules for constructing a musical: the main story was not a love story, there was no subplot or secondary love story, and there was no place for an ensemble. Many people, including Oscar Hammerstein II, who, with Richard Rodgers, had also tried his hand at adapting Pygmalion into a musical and had given up, told Lerner that converting the play to a musical was impossible, so he and Loewe abandoned the project for two years. During this time, the collaborators separated, and Gabriel Pascal died. Lerner had been trying to musicalize Lil' Abner when he read Pascal's obituary and found himself thinking about Pygmalion again. When he and Loewe reunited, everything seemed to fall into place. All the insurmountable obstacles that stood in their way two years earlier disappeared when the team realized that the play needed few changes, and according to Lerner, "All we had to do was add what Shaw had happening offstage". They then excitedly began writing the show.

However, Chase Manhattan Bank was in charge of Pascal's estate, and the musical rights to Pygmalion were sought both by Lerner and Loewe and by MGM, whose executives called Lerner to discourage him from challenging the studio. Loewe famously said to him, "We will write the show without the rights, and when the time comes for them to decide who is to get them, we will be so far ahead of everyone else that they will be forced to give them to us". For five months Lerner and Loewe wrote, hired technical designers, and made casting decisions. The bank, in the end, granted them the musical rights.

Noël Coward was the first to be offered the role of Henry Higgins but turned it down, suggesting the producers cast Rex Harrison instead. After much deliberation, Harrison agreed to accept the part. Mary Martin was an early choice for the role of Eliza Doolittle, but declined the role. Young actress Julie Andrews was "discovered" and cast as Eliza Doolittle after the show's creative team went to see her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend. Moss Hart agreed to direct after hearing only two songs. The experienced orchestrators Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang were entrusted with the arrangements and the show quickly went into rehearsal.

The musical's script used several scenes that Shaw had written especially for the 1938 film version of Pygmalion, including the Embassy Ball sequence and the final scene of the 1938 film rather than the ending for Shaw's original play. The montage showing Eliza's lessons was also expanded, combining both Lerner and Shaw's dialogue.


Program from Mark Hellinger Theatre
The musical had its pre-Broadway tryout at New Havenmarker's Shubert Theatremarker. On opening night Rex Harrison, who was unaccustomed to singing in front of a live orchestra, "announced that under no circumstances would he go on that night...with those thirty-two interlopers in the pit". He locked himself in his dressing room and came out little more than an hour before curtain time. The whole company had been dismissed but were rounded up by the assistant stage manager. The opening night was a triumph.

Beginning February 15, 1956, the show played for four weeks at the Erlanger Theatre in Philadelphiamarker. It opened March 15, 1956, at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York Citymarker (see program at left). It ran for 2,717 performances, a record at the time. Moss Hart directed and Hanya Holm was choreographer. In addition to stars Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, the original cast included Stanley Holloway, Robert Coote, Cathleen Nesbitt, John Michael King, and Reid Shelton. Edward Mulhare and Sally Ann Howes replaced Harrison and Andrews later in the run.

The show's title relates to one of Shaw's provisional titles for PygmalionFair Eliza. Other titles considered included "Come to the Ball" and "Lady Liza", but everyone agreed that a marquee reading "Rex Harrison in 'Lady Liza'" would be imprudent. So they took the title they disliked least — "My Fair Lady" (an allusion to the nursery rhyme "London Bridge Is Falling Down"). The original Playbill and cast recording sleeve featured artwork by Al Hirschfeld, who depicted Eliza as a marionette being manipulated by Henry Higgins, whose own strings are being pulled by a heavenly puppeteer resembling George Bernard Shaw.

Londonmarker's West Endmarker production, in which Harrison, Andrews, Coote, and Holloway reprised their roles, opened April 30, 1958, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lanemarker, where it ran for 2,281 performances. Stage star Zena Dare made her last appearance in the musical as Mrs. Higgins.

Revivals, tours and concerts

The show was revived on Broadway three times: in 1976, under Jerry Adler's direction and with Ian Richardson, Christine Andreas and George Rose; in 1981, directed by Patrick Garland with Harrison and Nesbitt recreating their roles, Jack Gwillim and Milo O'Shea; and in 1993, with Richard Chamberlain, Melissa Errico and Paxton Whitehead.

The show had a 1979 West End revival at the Adelphi Theatremarker with Tony Britton, Liz Robertson, Dame Anna Neagle, Richard Caldicot and Peter Land. Produced by Cameron Mackintosh, it was first directed by Robin Midgley and then by Lerner himself; Gillian Lynne was choreographer. Other European productions included an early 1970s staging in Holland starring John van Dreelen as Henry Higgins.

Mackintosh produced the show in 2001 at the Royal National Theatremarker and later the Theatre Royal, Drury Lanemarker, with Martine McCutcheon as Eliza Doolittle and Jonathan Pryce as Higgins. This revival won three Olivier Award: Outstanding Musical Production, Best Actress in a Musical (Martine McCutcheon) and Best Theatre Choreographer (Matthew Bourne). Joanna Riding took over the role of Eliza and won the Olivier Award, Best Actress in a Musical, in 2003. A UK tour of this production began September 28, 2005 and ended August 12, 2006. The production starred Amy Nuttall and Lisa O'Hare as Eliza, Christopher Cazenove as Henry Higgins, Russ Abbot and Gareth Hale as Alfred Doolittle, and Honor Blackman and Hannah Gordon as Mrs. Higgins.

In 2007 the New York Philharmonic held a full-costume concert presentation of the musical. The concert had a four-day engagement lasting from March 7–10 at Avery Fisher Hallmarker. It starred Kelli O'Hara as Eliza Doolittle, Kelsey Grammer as Professor Henry Higgins, Charles Kimbrough as Colonel Pickering, and Brian Dennehy as Alfred Doolittle. Marni Nixon played Mrs. Higgins; Nixon had provided the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in the film version.

A U.S. Tour of Mackintosh's 2001 West End production ran from September 12, 2007 to June 22, 2008. The production starred Lisa O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle, Christopher Cazenove as Professor Henry Higgins, Walter Charles as Colonel Pickering, Tim Jerome as Alfred Doolittle and Nixon as Mrs. Higgins, replacing Sally Ann Howes.

An Australian tour produced by Opera Australia commenced in May 2008. The production stars Reg Livermore as Professor Henry Higgins, Taryn Fiebig as Eliza Doolittle, Robert Grubb as Alfred Doolittle and Judi Connelli as Mrs Pearce. John Wood took the role of Alfred Doolittle in Queensland, and Richard E. Grant played the role of Henry Higgins at the Theatre Royal, Sydney.

San Francisco's Lamplighters Music Theatre has mounted its third revival of My Fair Lady in July/August 2009. This production is unusual in that Tom Reardon sings the role of Henry Higgins rather than speaking in tempo in the manner of Rex Harrison. It is also noteworthy for Geoff Hoyle in the role of Alfred Doolittle.


Act One
On a rainy night in Edwardian London, the opera patrons are waiting under the arches of Covent Gardenmarker for cabs. Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, runs into a young man called Freddy. She admonishes him for spilling her violets in the mud but cheers up after selling one to an older gentleman. She flies into an angry outburst when she sees another man copying down her speech. The man explains that he studies phonetics and can identify any man's origin by his accent. He laments Eliza's dreadful accent, asking "Why Can't the English learn to speak?" He declares that in six months, he could turn Eliza into a lady by teaching her to speak properly. The older gentleman introduces himself as Colonel Pickering, a linguist who has studied Indianmarker dialects. The phoneticist introduces himself as Henry Higgins, and, as they both have always wanted to meet each other, Higgins invites Pickering to stay at his home in London. He distractedly throws his change in Eliza's basket, and she and her friends wonder "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" to live a comfortable, proper life.

Eliza's father, Alfred P. Doolittle, his drinking companions Harry and Jamie, all dustmen, stop by the next morning. He is searching for money for a drink, and Eliza shares her profits with him ("With a Little Bit of Luck"). Pickering and Higgins are discussing vowels at Higgins's home when Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper, informs Higgins that a young woman with a ghastly accent has come to see him. It is Eliza, come to take lessons to speak properly so she can become a lady. Pickering wagers that Higgins cannot make good on his claim and volunteers to pay for Eliza's lessons. An intensive makeover of Eliza's speech, manners and dress begins in preparation for her appearance at the Embassy Ball. Higgins sees himself as a kindhearted, patient man who cannot get along with women ("I'm an Ordinary Man"). In reality, he is self-absorbed and misogynistic.

Eliza's father arrives at Higgins' house the next morning, claiming that Higgins is compromising Eliza's virtue. Higgins is impressed by the man's natural gift for language and his brazen lack of moral values ("Can't afford 'em!"). He and Doolittle agree that Eliza can continue to take lessons and live at Higgins' house if Higgins gives Doolittle five pounds for a spree. Higgins flippantly recommends Doolittle to an American millionaire who is seeking a lecturer on moral values. Meanwhile, Eliza endures speech tutoring, endlessly repeating phrases like "In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen” (to demonstrate that "h"s must be aspirated) and "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" (to practise the "long a" phoneme). She dreams of different ways to kill Higgins, from sickness to drowning to a firing squad ("Just You Wait"). The servants lament the hard "work" Higgins does ("The Servants' Chorus"). Just as they give up, Eliza suddenly "gets it" after Higgins eloquently speaks of the glory of the English language. "The Rain in Spain" becomes a song of triumph, as Higgins and Eliza dance around Higgins's study. Thereafter her pronunciation is transformed into that of impeccable upper class English. Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper, insists that Eliza go to bed; she declares she is too excited to sleep ("I Could Have Danced All Night").

For her first public tryout, Higgins takes Eliza to his mother's box at Ascot Racecoursemarker ("Ascot Gavotte"). Henry's mother reluctantly agrees to help Eliza make conversation, following Henry's advice that Eliza should stick to two subjects: the weather and everybody's health. Eliza makes a good impression with her polite manners but shocks everyone by her vulgar Cockney attitudes and slang—it seems that good elocution is only skin deep. But she captures the heart of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the young man whom she first ran into. Freddy calls on Eliza that evening, but she refuses to see him. He declares that he will wait for her in the street outside Higgins's house ("On the Street Where You Live").

The final test requires Eliza to pass as a lady at the Embassy Ball, and after weeks of preparation, she is ready. All the ladies and gentlemen at the ball admire her, and the Queen of Transylvania invites her to dance with her son, the prince ("Embassy Waltz"). Eliza then dances with Higgins. A rival of Higgins, a Hungarian phonetician named Zoltan Karpathy, is employed by the hostess to discover Eliza's origins through her speech. Though Pickering and his mother caution him not to, Higgins allows Karpathy to dance with Eliza.

Act Two
Eliza even fools Zoltan Karpathy into believing that she was "born Hungarian". After the ball, Col Pickering flatters Higgins about his triumph and Higgins expresses his pleasure that the experiment is now over - ("You Did It"). The episode leaves Eliza feeling used and abandoned. Higgins completely ignores Eliza until he mislays his slippers. He asks her where they are, and she lashes out at him, leaving the clueless professor mystified by her ingratitude ("Just You Wait" (reprise)). Eliza decides to leave Higgins, and finds Freddy still waiting outside ("On the Street where You Live" (reprise)). He begins to tell her how much he loves her, but she cuts him off, telling him that she has heard enough words; if he really loves her, he should show it ("Show Me"). She and Freddy return to Covent Garden, where her friends do not recognize her refined bearing. By chance, her father is there as well, dressed in a fine suit. He explains that he received a surprise bequest of four thousand pounds a year from the American millionaire, which has raised him to middle-class respectability, and now he must marry Eliza's "stepmother", the woman he has been living with for many years. Eliza sees that she no longer belongs in Covent Garden, and she and Freddy depart. Doolittle and his friends have one last spree before the wedding ("Get Me to the Church on Time").

Higgins awakens the next morning to find that, without Eliza, he has tea instead of coffee, and he cannot find his own files. He wonders why she left after the triumph at the ball and concludes that men (especially himself) are far superior to women ("A Hymn to Him"). Higgins seeks his mother's advice and finds Eliza having tea with her. She leaves them together, and Eliza explains that he has always treated her as a flower girl, but she learned to be a lady because Colonel Pickering treated her like a lady. Higgins claims he treated her the same way that Pickering did, and demands that she return. Eliza accuses him of wanting her only to fetch and carry for him, saying that she will marry Freddy because he loves her. She declares that she does not need Higgins anymore, saying that she was foolish to think that she needed him ("Without You"). Higgins is struck by Eliza's spirit and independence and wants her to stay with him, but she tells him that he will not see her again.

As Higgins walks home, he realizes his feelings for Eliza: he has "grown accustomed to her face". He cannot bring himself to confess that he loves her and insists that if she marries Freddy and then comes back to him, he will not accept her. However, he finds it difficult to imagine being alone again. He reviews the recording he made of the morning Eliza first came to him for lessons. He hears his own harsh words: "She's so deliciously low! So horribly dirty!" Then the phonograph turns off, and a real voice speaks in a Cockney accent: "I washed me face an' 'ands before I come, I did". Henry turns and sees Eliza standing in the doorway, tentatively returning to him. The musical ends on an ambiguous moment of possible reconciliation between teacher and pupil, as Higgins slouches and asks, "Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?".


In order of appearance:

  • Three Buskers
  • Mrs. Eynsford-Hill
  • Eliza Doolittle
  • Freddy Eynsford-Hill
  • Colonel Hugh Pickering
  • A Bystander
  • Henry Higgins
  • Selsey Man
  • Hoxton Man
  • Another Bystander
  • First Cockney
  • Second Cockney
  • Third Cockney

  • Fourth Cockney
  • Bartender
  • Harry
  • Jamie
  • Alfred P. Doolittle
  • Mrs. Pearce
  • Mrs. Hopkins
  • Butler
  • Servants
  • Mrs. Higgins
  • Chauffeur
  • Footmen
  • Lord Boxington

  • Lady Boxington
  • Constable
  • Flower Girl
  • Professor Zoltan Karpathy
  • Flunkey
  • Queen of Transylvania
  • Ambassador
  • Bartender
  • Mrs. Higgins' Maid
  • Singing Ensemble
  • Dancing Ensemble

Song list

Act I

Act II

Critical reception

A sampling of praise from critics, excerpted from a book form of the musical, published in 1956.

  • "A felicitous blend of intellect, wit, rhythm and high spirits. A masterpiece of musical comedy ... a terrific show." Robert Coleman, New York Daily Mirror.

  • "Fine, handsome, melodious, witty and beautifully acted ... an exceptional show." George C. Nathan, New York Journal American.

  • "Everything about My Fair Lady is distinctive and distinguished." John Chapman, New York Daily News.

My Fair Lady around the world

The musical has been translated into many languages, with Eliza speaking Berlin, Vienna, Stockholm, Göteborg, Amsterdam, and Budapest dialects. Here is Higgins' linguistic exercise and well-known song "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" in various languages:
  • Arabic: "سيدتي الجميلة: أنت القلب الكبير..أنت نعمة وإحسان..بنعمتك تختال علينا "
  • Czech: "Déšť dští ve Španělsku zvlášť tam kde je pláň"
  • Danish: "En snegl på vejen er tegn på regn i Spanien"
  • Dutch (Version 1 and 3): "Het Spaanse graan heeft de orkaan doorstaan"
  • Dutch (Version 2): "De franje in Spanje is meestal niet oranje"
  • Estonian: "Hispaanias on hirmsad vihmahood"
  • Finnish: "Vie fiestaan hienon miekkamiehen tie"
  • French: "Le ciel serein d'Espagne est sans embrun"
  • French (Quebec) : "La plaine madrilène plait à la reine"
  • German: "Es grünt so grün wenn Spaniens Blüten blühen"
  • Hebrew: "ברד ירד בדרום ספרד הערב" ("Barad yarad bidrom sfarad haerev")
  • Hungarian: "Lent délen édes éjen édent remélsz"
  • Icelandic: "A Spáni hundur lá við lund á grund"
  • Chinese:"西班牙的雨多数留在郊外"
  • Italian (original performance on stage): "In Spagna s'è bagnata la campagna"
  • Italian (film version): "La rana in Spagna gracida in campagna"
  • Italian (later performances on stage): "La pioggia in Spagna bagna la campagna"
  • Korean: "스페인 평원에 비가 내려요"
  • Marathi: "Ti Phularaani"
  • Norwegian (Version 1): "Det gol og mol i solen en spanjol"
  • Norwegian (Version 2): "De spanske land har altid manglet vand"
  • persian: بانوی زیبای من
  • Polish: "W Hiszpanii mży, gdy dżdżyste przyjdą dni"
  • Portuguese (Version 1): "O rei de Roma ruma a Madrid"
  • Portuguese (Version 2): "Atrás do trem as tropas vem trotando"
  • Russian (Version 1): "На дворе - трава, а на траве - дрова" ("Na dvorye trava, a na travye drova")
  • Russian (Version 2:) "Карл у Клары украл кораллы" ("Karl ooh Klary ukral korally")
  • Spanish (Version 1): "La lluvia en Sevilla es una pura maravilla"
  • Spanish (Version 2): "La lluvia en España los bellos valles baña"
  • Spanish (Mexican cast) "El rey que hay en Madrid se fue a Aranjuez"
  • Swedish: "Den spanska räven rev en annan räv"
  • Swedish (version 2): "Nederbörden och skörden" ("All nederbörd förstörde körsbärsskörden")
  • Turkish: "Ispanya’da yağmur, her yer çamur"
  • Ukrainian: "Дощі в Афінах частіше йдуть в долинах" ("Doshchi v Afinah chastishe jdut' v dolynah")

Awards and nominations

(Winners are indicated in parentheses)

1956 Broadway

1976 Broadway revival

  • Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical - Ian Richardson, George Rose (WINNER)

  • Theatre World Award - Christine Andreas (WINNER)

  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Musical - Ian Richardson (WINNER)
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical - George Rose (WINNER)
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Musical - Jerry Adler
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival - Produced by Herman Levin

1981 Broadway revival

1993 Broadway revival

  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical Revival - Produced by Barry & Fran Weissler, Jujamcyn Theaters (James H. Binger: Chairman; Rocco Landesman: President; Paul Libin: Producing Director; Jack Viertel: Creative Director); Produced in association with PACE Theatrical Group, Inc., Tokyo Broadcasting System Intl., Inc., Martin Rabbett
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical - Melissa Errico
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design - Patricia Zipprodt

2001 West End revival

Film adaptation

An Oscar-winning film version was made in 1964 directed by George Cukor and with Harrison again in the part of Higgins. Controversy surrounded the casting of Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews for the part of Eliza — partly because theatregoers regarded Andrews as perfect for the part and partly because Hepburn's singing voice had to be dubbed. (Marni Nixon sang all songs except "Just you wait", where Hepburn's voice was left undubbed during the harsh-toned chorus of the song but Nixon sang the melodic bridge section.) Meanwhile, Andrews won 1964's Oscar for Best Actress in Mary Poppins.

Lerner in particular disliked the film version of the musical: he thought it did not live up to the standards of Moss Hart's original direction. He also was unhappy that the film was shot entirely on the Warner Brothers backlot rather than, as he would have preferred, in London.

A new film adaptation has been announced by Columbia Pictures.

See also


  1. See, e.g., Steyn, Mark. Broadway Babies Say Goodnight: Musicals Then and Now, Routledge (1999), p. 119 ISBN 0415922860 and this 1993 NY Times review
  2. Lerner, The Street Where I Live, p. 47
  3. Morley, Sheridan. A Talent to Amuse: A Biography of Noël Coward, p. 369, Doubleday & Company, 1969
  5. Lerner, p. 104
  6. History of the show
  7. Lawson, Kyle. "Marni Nixon in My Fair Lady", The Arizona Republic, June 10, 2008
  8. US Tour
  9. Tim Jerome bio
  10. Gans, Andrew. "Marni Nixon to Join My Fair Lady Tour in Chicago", August 28, 2007
  11. My Fair Lady: A Musical Play in Two Acts. Based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Adaptation and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe. New York: Doward-McCann, Inc., 1956.


  • Citron, David (1995). The Wordsmiths: Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Alan Jay Lerner, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195083865
  • Garebian, Keith (1998). The Making of My Fair Lady, Mosaic Press. ISBN 0889626537
  • Green, Benny, Editor (1987). A Hymn to Him : The Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner, Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0879101091
  • Jablonski, Edward (1996). Alan Jay Lerner: A Biography, Henry Holt & Co. ISBN 0805040765
  • Lees, Gene (2005). The Musical Worlds of Lerner and Loewe, Bison Books. ISBN 0803280408
  • Lerner, Alan Jay (1985). The Street Where I Live, Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306806029
  • Shapiro, Doris (1989). We Danced All Night: My Life Behind the Scenes With Alan Jay Lerner, Barricade Books. ISBN 0942637984

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