Wednesday, December 11, 2013

48. My Fair Lady (1964)

Code-name: my "high school musical"

Director: George Cukor
Type: Musical
Music and Lyrics: Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner

Eliza Doolittle- Aubrey Hepburn
Eliza Doolittle (singing voice)- Marni Nixon (also did Maria in "West Side Story" and Anna in "The King & I")
Professor Henry Higgins- Rex Harrison
Colonel Pickering- Wilfird Hyde-White
Alfie Doolittle-Stanley Holloway
Mrs. Higgins-Gladys Cooper
Mrs. Pierce- Mona Washbourne
Freddie Eynsford-Hill- Jeremy Brett
Zolton Karaparthy- Theodore Bikel

Notable Awards and Nominations:

OSCAR- Best Picture
OSCAR- Best Director (George Cukor)
OSCAR- Best Actor (Rex Harrison)
OSCAR- Best Cinematography
OSCAR- Best Sound
OSCAR- Best Original Score (Andre Previn)
OSCAR- Best Art Direction
OSCAR- Best Costumes (Cecil Beaton)
nomination-OSCAR- Best Adapted Screenplay (Alan Jay Lerner- adapted from George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion")
nomination-OSCAR- Best Film Editing
nomination-OSCAR- Best Supporting Actor (Stanley Holloway- Pickering)
nomination-OSCAR- Best Supporting Actress (Gladys Cooper- Mrs. Higgins)

Golden Globe- Best Picture
Golden Globe- Best Director (George Cukor)
Golden Globe- Best Actor (Rex Harrison)


I'm not sure how many people indulged my previous entry. "Sucker Punch" is a guilt-less pleasure of mine, but all the same, this next picture will be a proper one. ;)


10 years ago, around this time, we were putting the finishing touches on our adaptation of this musical. My junior year of high school was practically stressful between keeping my grades up and making manageable SAT scores. But thanks to this project (as well as concert choir and the two plays the drama kids put on), I always had something to look forward to.

Le sigh. I'm not the most outgoing person in the word, but I tried out for every drama and musical. It's hard to say which annoyed me more, the fact I never got even a call-back or the fact the same people ALWAYS got cast. Probably the call-backs because I could never begrudge the people who won the parts.
Especially the class of 2004, who dominated the cast of "My Fair Lady" and had me in stitches during "Let's Murder Marsha" and "Rumors" (which made me seek out every Neil Simon play I could manage).

This class was so talented that they triple-cast Eliza. Janna (3 nights), Lauren (2 nights) and Elyce (Friday night). Every other role had only two people playing roles. The only person I got remotely close to was Drew, a newcomer as a sophomore, who played Colonel Pickering on two nights. He brought such great energy to that role, he got more applause than that night's Henry Higgins (Ryan, who grew up on my street and I saw throughout my school years).
But easily, my favorite cast was the three-night cast with Zach playing Henry Higgins. I could go on and on about him, but in the two years I saw him in the high school shows, he always wowed me with his acting prowess and warm tenor voice. I always said to myself he was destined for Broadway. (Last I heard, he's part of an acting company in New York state).

Such good times. The company had three costumes, so when the shows went live, my costume changes were quick so I could watch the actors at work.
While on those costumes, the designing was amazing, as if they came right out of the movie.


Act 1

For those who don't know the story, Eliza Doolittle is a flower girl who sells flowers in Covent Garden. One night, Henry Higgins, a phonetics professor, is eavesdropping nearby and comments on how horrible Eliza's accent is. Around the same time, he comes in contact with Colonel Pickering, an expert in phonetics, particularly  Sanskrit, who came from India to meet him. Professor Higgins says in passing that he'd be able to teach Eliza proper English.
Some time later, she tracks him down at 27A Wimpole Street and says she'd be interested in the lessons. Pickering encourages an unwilling Professor Higgins to take her on and bets him the cost of the lessons that he wouldn't be able to pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy Ball. Considering the depth of Eliza's Cockney accent, this is anything but a simple task. At one point, she sings a revenge anthem poking fun at him  and how she won't help him even if he asked for it ("Just You Wait"). But somehow, they all manage to succeed.

Act 2

The embassy ball goes without a hitch, after which Higgins and Pickering can't stop patting themselves on the back ("You did it"). Unfortunately, this makes Eliza, who put in most of the work herself, feel underappreciated so she takes off. Freddy, whom she met at her disastrous first outing [after the "great transformation"] at the Ascot races, continues to pine after her and she considers him in her future plans.
Professor Higgins, despite himself, goes looking for her and finds her at his mother's residence, where she and him have another spat before she storms off again.

But... surprise, surprise, Professor Higgins realizes that he misses her ("I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face") and she returns to 27A Wimpole Street of her own fruition.

What makes this musical so special?

Obviously, the ticket that got this movie to my top 101 was nostalgia. Every now and then, I'll watch it and reminisce about the good old days. It's the only other musical on my list and it beats on "Sweeny Todd" for the same reasons.

It's a great story with a lot of different themes. We learn that London is chock full of dialects and Professor Higgins happens to be someone who can place a person based on how they speak.
The most prominent theme, though, has to be the relationships between men and women. Higgins is quite full of himself, believing he doesn't need a woman in his life (yep, that gets a song too) and plays off Eliza's annoyance with him as if she's beneath him. That he has absolutely nothing to do with her unhappiness while not accounting for the effort she put into the lessons he gave her.
Having said that, isn't it ironic that Rex Harrison won the Oscar and Aubrey Hepburn wasn't even nominated? That's said to be one of the greatest snubs in Oscar history.

Another thing that stands out is the cast of characters. How often in a musical do you find supporting roles gaining just as much recognition as, if not more than, the leads?
This isn't to say that Aubrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison aren't excellent at what they do. The actors that played Eliza's father and Professor Higgins's mother were nominated for a reason. He's quite the scene-stealer and Mrs. Higgins is an incredibly strong role, showing Eliza kindness and patience while being able to put her son in his place... the only other person other than Eliza [in Act 2] willing to do so.

The best part of the story was Eliza's character arc, how much she changed throughout the show. Now just her accent, but her mindset, the way she holds herself. She becomes a stronger person as a result of what she went through. Dare I say, her story is universal and a lot of girls can probably relate to her.

Highlights from "our" version

I hadn't seen these actors in other roles, although I'm still looking to see "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (get on that, TCM!!) and "Roman Holiday," so I only have this movie to go back.

Regarding Rex Harrison, he deserved that Oscar for this great portrayal of a misogynist... sorry, a stuffy phonetics professor. But I have my own personal nit-picks. One nit-pick. He didn't do a lot of singing as Professor Higgins. If anything, he spoke his way through his songs.
Alan Rickman did some speak-singing in "Sweeny Todd," but at least it looked like he tried to sing. 

Colonel Pickering is a good character because he treated Eliza like an equal, never talking down to her. But Justin and Drew, the guys who brought him to life in our version, really knew how to bring him to life. While gentlemanly, they played him off almost as if he was a comic foil to a straitlaced Higgins. There was a more distinct contrast between the two, boiling down to how they read their lines compared to the original version.

In both versions, though, Alfie Doolittle was the most comedic role in the show... always good for a laugh. Of course, not to be missed is what happens to him in the 2nd act, how what happened to Eliza changed him for the "better" (in a backwards sort of way, let's just say he might not totally agree with that).

For the most part, aside from the fact one was set on a stage and one had multiple sets, we stayed true to the original.

The Music

There are a lot of great songs in this musical, but they also serve as a reminder that something like this is meant for musical lovers.
For example, "I could have danced all night" is one of a number of songs that go on for ages... to the point where you almost want to say "enough already, we get it!"

"Wouldn't it be loverly?" stands out to me because it was the first song that came to mind when I sat down to write this entry.
But it is kinda timely right now.

"Lots of coal making lots of heat. Warm face, warm hands, warm feet, oh, wouldn't it be loverly?"

and no, that is not a typo. Our choir teacher, Ms. Cloak just loved to emphasize how Cockney-accent Eliza pronounced that (she also made a note of the fact Audrey Hepburn's less than perfect lip-syncing, lol).

There's also a nice range of songs throughout the show. Some are stoic in nature (practically everything Higgins speak-sings) and others are more catchy (practically everything Eliza sings as well as numbers by her father).

But as a general rule, you rarely get a musical number that's less than five minutes long.

I also love Freddy's solo, "To the Streets Where you Live" and Eliza's response in Act 2, "Show Me"... lots of sass in that number. (Freddy's song was also easy for me to figure out on keyboard without having to google sheet music).

Allusions and References

Years ago, I remember seeing an episode of "The Simpsons" with yet another showdown between Bart and Sideshow Bob. And for whatever reason, Sideshow Bob decided he couldn't kill Bart and proceeded to sing "I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face"... I wouldn't recognize that reference for years.

"Family Guy" did it. Stewie did an "Eliza" transformation for one of his preschool classmates, but it doesn't end well for him.

Our high school musical aside, this movie had staying power with me because a lot of references to it were coming out of the woodwork around the same time.
Specifically, Lindsay Lohan's "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen"... I'd feel kinda silly putting that on my list (although it's in my top 200 for sure), but it really resonated with me as a teenager. To this day, that's still true. Aside from the character of Lola (deluded, yes, but I wish I had that much strength in my convictions), I was hooked immediately because her high school was doing "Pygmalion"... which became a contemporary version of the original George Bernard Shaw play featuring revamped pop songs :-P
Good times...

Coming Attractions...

My next two movies are my favorite Robin Williams films, chock full of nostalgia. One is animated and the other is live-action, both are geared towards kids.
Although the latter I recently found to be PG13, so that's a tough call :-P

Anyway, hope those who made this far enjoyed the entry and feel free to leave your comments below.

No comments: