Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
adapted from Pygmalion, a play by George Bernard Shaw

INFO:

Opened at the Mark Hellinger Theater    March 15, 1956    2,717 performances (The longest running musical ever to that date.)
Original Director: Moss Hart
Original Choreographer: Hanya Holm
Original Producer: Herman Levin
Original Leads: Higgins: Rex Harrison    Liza: Julie Andrews    Doolitle: Stanley Holloway
Pickering: Robert Coote
Cast Size: Male: 5    Female: 3    Ensemble: As large as you can manage, no less than 16, 10 m-6 fm    Total Cast Size: At least 24
Orchestra: 22-26. (Reduced orchestrations available for 13, and for dual pianos)
Published Script: Signet
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: The original Broadway 1956 is great, as is the Original London cast. The movie version is very good as well. There are many others.
Film: Great film, with Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, dubbed in a lot of her singing by Marnie Nixon. Directed by George Cukor, it won every award in sight.
Other shows by the authors: Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, Camelot, Gigi.   Lerner: On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Love Life
Awards:1957 Tony Best Musical; Best Performance by a Leading Actor (Harrison); Best Direction (Moss Hart); others. As a film, in 1964, it won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Cukor), Best Actor (Harrison), others.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

My Fair Lady is considered a perfect Musical Comedy, and so it is. If I had to select one musical to represent the genre, this would be it. (Or maybe Guys & Dolls…) That said, this is a very large show! The two leading roles are extraordinarily difficult and demanding. The number (and required lush look) of the sets and costumes alone could bankrupt a company. The show could possibly be done without an orchestra, but why would anyone do that? (I have seen it done with just a piano, and felt embarrassed for the production, to be frank.)

Professional companies with real resources, large theaters and large stages to fill should do this show at least once. Some opera companies have produced productions of My Fair Lady, as well. There should always be a production of it on Broadway or the West End. (There isn’t, but there should be.) Colleges and larger semi-pro companies should consider it if they have both the resources and the lead actors.

Note – it is rumored that as of mid 2013, a major Broadway revival is being put together at a cost of $12-14 million dollars. If this occurs, regional and local rights will probably be restricted for awhile.

Be Warned:

Incredibly ambitious Dinner Theaters and Little Theaters do My Fair Lady occasionally – but not well, in my opinion. High Schools shouldn’t dream of it, really, it’s almost impossible that they could do it justice. It’s too big a show, and places too many demands on a production company. The ages of the characters range from young maturity (as in Eliza’s case) to past their prime (Doolittle, Higgin’s mother, Pickering). A young-ish group should probably not tackle this show without access to some mature actors, since these are three of the leading roles.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE:

It is a rainy night in London. The opera is letting out at Covent Garden (which, by the way, would be a marvelous theater for a production of My Fair Lady!). A cockney spouting flower girl, Liza Doolittle, collides with a sophisticated and wealthy young man, Freddy Einsford-Hill, and she rips him in slang for the mess he’s made of her flowers and livelihood. She is slightly mollified when an older gentleman, Colonel Pickering, buys a flower from her. She notices a strange man who is writing as she speaks and a bit afraid, demands to know what he’s up to. This is Professor Higgins, perhaps the world’s greatest specialist in linguistics, the science of human speech, and he claims (accurately as it turns out) that he can tell you within a few blocks where a person was born and raised based on their accent. Higgins complains that it is only language that keeps the classes in England apart (“Why Can’t The English”), and brags that in six months, he could pass Liza off as a lady by teaching proper speech and etiquette. It turns out that Pickering is also a linguistics expert – and that he’s come from India (where he is the expert of dialects) to London to meet Higgins! Higgins invites the man to stay at his fine house, tosses Liza a fair amount of money, and the men depart. Liza takes the money and dreams about what life would be like if she were a lady, and had lots of money. (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”) (NOTE – There is a convention in Musical Comedy that the main character gets an “I want” song early in Act I, usually right at the top. This is a song that tells us who the character is, and what it is they want. This is done early in a show in order to a) provide the story its “engine,” the thing that will drive the action, and b) develop the audience’s empathy for the character. Lerner and Loewe have provided each of their two leads their “I want” song brilliantly with these first two numbers, while at the same time set the story and conflict in motion.) Liza’s father, Alfred Doolittle (and a more appropriate last name has never been bestowed upon a character), an uneducated dustman with a genius for staying drunk and manipulating life to serve this purpose, approaches his daughter in hopes of money. Liza surprisingly supplies money, and the man’s day is made. (“With A Little Bit of Luck”)

At Higgin’s house the next day. The two men are discussing their trade when Higgin’s housekeeper, the formidable Mrs. Pearce, let’s him know that a woman with a horrific accent has shown up at his door to see him. Higgins is thrilled, this will allow him to show off his theories for Pickering. The girl is shown in and it is, of course, Liza. She is here to take Higgins up on his statement that he could make her into a lady, and offers him all her money (a pathetic amount it is) to do so. She wants to speak well enough to work in a flower shop. Pickering, delighted, takes Higgins bet and offers to pay for Liza’s studies. Higgins admits that he is impressed with the fact that Liza would give him all she has to have this chance, and accepts the bet. Her training begins. She is moved in, her old clothes burned in favor of a more lady-like wardrobe, and she is bathed, all to her horror. Higgins and Pickering target an upcoming Embassy Ball, a few months hence, to try her out in public. He works her mercilessly, until even Mrs. Pearce and Pickering express concern. Higgins, ever self-involved and with a low opinion of women, cannot understand how anyone can see him as anything other than “An Ordinary Man.”

Doolittle shows up at Higgin’s door, at first claiming that something immoral is happening in this house with his daughter and these two men. He’s not opposed to this. He just wants something for the trouble of having raised such a desirable young lady. Higgins is charmed with Doolittle’s Machiavellian ethics, and offers the man money. Doolittle takes only a part of what’s offered, afraid that taking more would force him to become a good citizen. And the lessons continue. Night and day, as the maids complain. She cannot pronounce an “h” where an “h” would go in an English word. She cannot really speak the language. Sick of him and his apparent cruelty, Liza dreams of getting revenge on Higgins. (“Just You Wait”) The Servents threaten to quit at what they see. (“The Servant’s Chorus”) And then one night, in a state of exhaustion, Liza gets it. Almost unconsciously, she starts to speak correctly, even beautifully, the wretched exercise Higgins has given, “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.” Higgins, Pickerking and Liza herself go mad with joy and tango about the room. (“The Rain In Spain”, probably the single most joyous moment in all of Musical Theater.) Mrs. Pearce drags an exhilarated Liza to her bedroom, but alone and unable to sleep, she can only dwell with pleasure upon the tango just shared. (“I Could Have Danced All Night”, which amazingly tops “The Rain In Spain.” The show is perfect.)

The men decide to try her out in a public forum, and take her to the Ascot races. (Horse races.) There, the refined and upper crust of London celebrate in the calmest and most contained of terms their pampered lives. (“Ascot Gavotte”) Entering, Liza and her two mentors are met by Higgin’s wealthy and disapproving mother. She is there to help introduce Liza to society, and is instructed by Higgi9ns that Liza is to discuss only the weather and a person’s health, nothing else. This works out at first, as she is able to avoid most slang. She loses it, however, watching a horse race, and shouts at a horse to “move your bloomin’ arse!” (The only “foul” word in the show, hysterically funny as everyone else stands around in conservative shock.) This completely wins over the same Freddy E-H we met in the first scene, who does not recognize her as the flower girl he bumped into. He calls on her at Higgin’s that night. She will not see him, but he is determined to remain outside the house in any and all weather for as long as it takes, “On The Street Where You Live.” Through Feddy, we see that the upper class is ready to fall for Liza.

To the Embassy Ball. Liza is dressed like a princess, and is much admired. Many men, even of royal birth, wish to dance with her. (“Embassy Waltz”) Her unspoken dream comes true when Higgins dances with her. Then, Higgin’s great rival, a Hungarian named Zoltan Kaparthy, takes her in his arms- determined to discover who she really is. Pickering and Mrs. Higgins watch with alarm.

ACT TWO:
After the Ball, at Higgin’s house. Higgins and Pickering relive their great victory, climaxed by Kaparthy’s announcement that Liza was a fraud, and must be Hungarian royalty. The two men congratulate each other (“You Did It”), rather forgetting that Liza had something to do with it all. When Higgins asks Liza if she knows where his slippers are, she lets him have it and departs. He is stunned by her ingratitude. Liza discovers Freddy still waiting outside on the street. He gushes with love for her, but she is sick of words and demands that he act. (“Show Me”) They wander into Covent Garden, where none of her old crowd know her anymore. But her father is there, and dressed in a fine suit! He has taken a job that Higgins recommended for him (public speaking about his unique views on life, all paid for by an American millionaire of Higgin’s association), is now well-to-do, and must accordingly and finally marry the woman he’s lived with for many years. Liza sees that the flower mart is no longer home to her, that she belongs nowhere, and she and Freddy leave. Higgins has a last spree as a bachelor. (“Get Me To The Church On Time”)

The next day Higgins discovers that his life is upside down. He can find nothing he’s looking for, and is deeply annoyed (though he will not admit it) that Liza has left him. Women’s heads are filled with “cotton, hay and rags,” and men are clearly the superior sex. (“A Hymn To Him”) Even Pickering, though, has had enough, and leaves to stay with another friend. Stung and confused, Higgins consults with his mother. But arriving at her house, he finds her having tea with Liza. Mrs. Higgins leaves the two of them to talk. Liza tries to explain to him that she is only seen as a lady now because Pickering treated her like a lady and not a flower girl. Higgins sees no difference in the way any man treats any woman, and does not understand. Furthermore, Liza no longer wants to pick up after Higgins, and has decided to marry Freddy. He loves her, at least. Higgins predicts she is doomed to a life of ruin, but she says she will do very well indeed away from Higgins. (“Without You”) He is astonished by her independence, and genuinely drawn to her, but she leaves him, never to return. Higgins, alone, realizes that he has perhaps started to fall in love. (“I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”) He rages about Liza’s doomed life as a flower girl, and predicts she will come crawling back. He roars that he will never take her back, but he doth protest too much. Alone and miserable, he plays back recordings he’s made of Liza’s voice when she first came to him, and hears his own words, declaring her “deliciously low.” Then, in the shadows of the room behind him, Liza speaks with her old Cockney accent. Against her own best wishes, she has come back. He does not even look at her, but asks her “Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?” Is this a happy ending? We will never know, as the curtain falls.

THE SONGS:

“Why Can’t The English?”; “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”; “With A Little Bit Of Luck”; “I’m An Ordinary Man”; “Just You Wait”; “The Rain In Spain”; “I Could Have Danced All Night”; “Ascot Gavotte”; “On The Street Where You Live”; “The Embassy Waltz; “You Did It”; “Show Me”; “Get Me To The Church On Time”; “A Hymn To Him”; “Without You”; “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”

Hits include well, all of it, really. Most particularly “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”; “I Could Have Danced All Night”; “On The Street Where You Live”; “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face”

MY OPINIONS:

As alwayus, feel free to skip or ignore my opinions and rating.  But hink twice, you never know when I’ll happen to be on the street where you live… (And why is Freddy Hill not considered a stalker?)

Alan Jay Lerner is my favorite theatrical lyricist (which is to say he’s my favorite lyricist). The lyrics in My Fair Lady are the reason why, more than anything else. The fact that he also adapted Shaw’s play and ended up writing what surely is the most amazing, tight, perfect script for a musical, is just short of a miracle. Loewe’s music is unforgettable, of course, and every song is not only memorable, but a hit or something resembling one. No other musical entertains or satisfies as profoundly as this one. (Except maybe Guys & Dolls…)

Usually when music theater historians (don’t laugh, there are such things) discuss the subject, they claim a golden age for the musical. It generally starts with Oklahoma (which I believe to be incorrect, it starts earlier in my opinion, with the arrival of Kurt Weill to Broadway), and ends in the mid-late 60s with shows like Fiddler On The Roof, Man of La Mancha, and 1776. But they pretty much agree that My Fair Lady represents the height of that golden age.

Throughout most of this book, I’m trying to present not only musicals that I believe should be produced, but ways in which they could be produced and developed that would be contemporary, creative and perhaps more viable. I’m looking for new ways to look at old shows, in order to rejuvenate them both creatively, and in terms of a producer’s bottom line. This approach can be, I believe, effective with almost every show in this book. Nearly every musical can benefit from a new perspective that will help make it a new experience for all concerned.

Not so for My Fair Lady, I’m afraid. Mostly because My Fair Lady is, well, perfect as is, I don’t think it would benefit a production to seek high and low for a new creative approach. The original artists involved in developing the 1956 Broadway production solved the creative problems of My Fair Lady as well as they can be solved, in my opinion. I will discuss performing it on a unit set or perhaps using projections (without recommending either), but I don’t believe an altered design approach will improve My Fair Lady, other than making it simpler and cheaper to produce which, in this case, is probably not going to be an improvement. And what’s more, I truly fear such approaches will harm productions of this masterwork. The aphorism “if it works, don’t fix it” was made for My Fair Lady.

Part of the irresistible charm of this show is found in its production values. Beautiful sets and costumes are expected, as is an orchestra. A generally “Broadway” look, feel and sound, or as close to that stellar level as you can get, are required. Few companies can deliver on such a requirement, and if you cannot, best to leave this show and look for another. If you’re not certain what I’m talking about, you might look at the fine movie version, just for design elements like sets and costumes. And then ask-can we do something that looks like that? Listen to the original Broadway or London cast recordings and ask yourself, “can we sound anything like that?” If the answer is no, there are many wonderful musicals available for your consideration. But this should not be one of them.

MY RATING: *** (An exceptional show, bordering on (if not) perfect, and one of my personal favorites.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:
Loewe can get into some interesting harmonics, but overall, this isn’t that hard a musical score to play or teach. The songs are each so instantly memorable that actors rarely struggle (except the Higgins role, which we’ll discuss in a moment). The choral music contains beautiful harmonies, and since there is little dance in the show, you can focus your ensemble casting on great voices and physical types. You’ll need the voices. The orchestrations are active, and can be a bit of a workout. You’ll want a strong string section. The orchestra called for is one of the largest in Musical Theater. There is a reduced orchestration available for minimal strings, using 13 musicians. This might work well for some theaters. A dual piano arrangement is also offered by Tams Witmark, and if it were me, I’d certainly add to that (at least) a few strings, two woodwinds and one trumpet, though these could to some extent be executed on synths (2). In that way, the score could be performed by 2-3 keyboards, with perhaps drums and string bass. All of that said, the full orchestration for this show is preferable.

As to vocals, in general, this is a show for actors who sing well. Higgins is perhaps the exception, originally played by Rex Harrison, who initially and famously disdained the fact that this was a musical and not just Shaw’s play, and hated the fact that there were musicians in the pit. Harrison could carry a tune just enough to imply the melody between spoken phrases. But his sense of timing was uncannily correct for the character. I personally can’t imagine anyone ever doing this role better, but I can easily imagine a decent singer who was a very strong actor being cast, and carrying the songs with more melodic confidence. Their melodies are, after all, lovely. But Higgin’s songs are constructed musically to highlight lyrics, with sometimes redundant (but wonderful) melodies (“Why Can’t The English”, “An Ordinary Man”). The words, in My Fair Lady, a musical about language, are the thing. The music, as well as has ever been done, help define and catapult the emotion of the lyrics. But as Higgin’s role makes clear, you’ll want an actor who is extremely comfortable with words and meters. Usually a lyric baritone (of sorts).

Liza, a soprano, was originally played by perhaps the finest musical theater ingenue of them all, Julie Andrews. The role calls for a strong soprano with some lilting belt in the middle, and a real upper range. Must be an extraordinarily good and legit voice, trained, but not “operatic.” She is the vocal opposite to Higgins, and sings most of her notes. A voice that soars. Must go from definitive cockney accent in her singing and dialogue to credible upper English.

Pickering is a character role, a lyric baritone who, like Higgins, can do a little singing, be on pitch, but never lose the character.

Doolittle is your comic character lead. Mature, a baritone, but not a “romantic” voice. Completely a character, cockney, rowdy, devilish, alive. Comfort with comic character numbers would be a big plus.

Freddie is your young, romantic lead. A tenor with some low notes (or lyric baritone with strong top notes), nearly legit, a real romantic voice, but strong and expressive.

Mrs. Pearce is an alto, character, mature, should have a fairly legit, trained voice. But again, the acting, and a credible British accent for a woman running a gentleman’s house, are required.

Mrs. Higgins does not sing.

The ensemble must ALL sing and also dance well. Go for every range and get a good mix, strong voices able to do cockney and upper British dialects, with some legit quality. Get strong, quasi-legit voices to back up “Loverly,” and they should harmonize well.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:
My Fair Lady is not a dance show. There are numbers that call for movement, however, including the Embassy Waltz, but truly choreography is the least important of the major factors in this show. The numbers each have strong rhythmic pulses, and a good director will know how to stage to the lyric and pulse of each song without having the movement intrude in the song or the performer’s work. “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”; “With A Little Bit Of Luck”;“The Embassy Waltz; “Get Me To The Church On Time” require backup singer/dancers appropriate to the number. You will definitely need to cast good dancer/singers for the Doolittle numbers.

CASTING CONCERNS:
You’re looking overall for very strong actors who sing well. In Eliza’s case, she must sing very well. Your ensemble will be cast for type and voice, and if they can move well, that’s a good thing. And please note that no show, no matter how well-written, is actor proof! Casting for My Fair Lady well is absolutely critical to its success.

Professor Henry Higgins is a world-class misogynist. He does not see himself, however, as a hater of women, but rather, as a reasonable man. 40s or so, aristocratic to some extent, urbane, civilized, cultured, enormously self-involved, highly intellectual, hard-working and industrious, but accustomed to creature comfort. Emotionally naïve, almost childishly petulant at times. Must be a force on stage, charismatic and vital. We must get a sense of potential unrealized, a man who lives in an intellectual world and who is limited by it, but if, oh if he could be awakened to the world around him, what might he accomplish? It is this unreferenced, uncommented-upon quality in part that makes him loveable (or at least likeable…or bearable), even when he does disgusting and chauvinistic things. His relation with his mother is a bit troubling, given his age. She is the person he goes to when troubled, though they do not seem particularly close. Then again, such a man does not make close ties, and is too difficult to spend a great deal of time with. We suspect that eventually, Liza may discover this sad fact for herself.  Given the period and location, he pretty much must be a Caucasian.  Afraid this is true for casting this show generally.

Liza Doolittle is in her late teens-early 20s. Dirty and street-worn when we first see her, she must clean up and be lovely and quite British. Very capable with accents, particularly Cockney and High British. Singing very well is very important. Determined, occasionally hard-minded and unforgiving, somewhat self-involved or at least tunnel-visioned. Always longing for more, Liza has a vision for her life expressed in “Loverly” which evolves and changes dramatically as she acquires culture. Higgins is not at all within her reach (or her interest) at the start of the musical. And though he provides her little reason to care for him, he does more for her than anyone ever has, and demonstrates an ability to make her ambitions into a reality. You could see Liza as opportunistic, accordingly, and she may have a bit of that, but in the end, she is a romantic who falls in love with the man who mentors her, who pays her the most attention, and who secretly harbors enormous possibilities of soul. She does choose the right man. This does not mean he is the right man for her. (Shaw claimed that after the play “Pygmalion” ends, which My Fair Lady is of course based on, Liza returns to Freddy. After a while, he would leave her, and she would end up owning a flower shop, just as Higgins predicts. Lerner does not necessarily agree with Shaw so far as the musical version of this story goes, but then, musicals tend by their nature to be somewhat romantic.)

Pickering should be 40s-60s, puffy, British, intellectual, a bit soft and starchy but sweet and kind-hearted. A man with good energy. A bit more worldly and wiser than Higgins, capable of feeling some alarm at his treatment of Liza. A good friend, but with limits as to what he will tolerate. Probably former British army who has spent a lot of time in India practicing his trade as a linguist, there is that about him of straight carriage and some manly vitality. The actor MUST be innately likeable on-stage, an uncle or best friend figure one would welcome into one’s home. Enthusiastic for his chosen profession and for Higgin’s remarkable expertise, but he is no slouch himself and sees himself as credible and comparable to Higgins in many regards.

Doolittle must be played by an expert comic actor in his 50s or so. Covered in dirt, drunk most of the time, he nonetheless has a curious philosophic bent, and seems to have thought much about the world around him. He is intelligent, but it’s hard to recognize through the fog of alcohol on his breath and the odor of the streets in his clothes. Rumpled, worn, a bit rancid, but filled with life and ever looking for the best chance. His songs have a British music hall feeling to them, and the actor should be comfortable with that style.

Freddy should be in his 20s, cultured, urbane but eager. A bit naïve. A romantic at heart whose life is somewhat of a bore, and so he is easily struck by Liza, who is both different and entertaining. And yet, there’s not much going on in that head of his, as there never has been any need for him to develop either skills or interests. Unaccustomed to demands being placed him, or any need for action of a definitive sort, as Liza discovers. He is well-intentioned, but shares with Higgins and Pickering a basic lack of understanding of his fellow man, especially if downtrodden. A pale shadow of the massive soul and intellect that is Higgins, and as such, a contrast to him for Liza’s attentions. Higgins is all potential waiting to be realized, Freddy has arrived at the realization of his limited potential, and it is not impressive. Should probably be played by a reasonably attractive young man, but I debate whether this is necessary. It might be interesting if he was quite plain. Voice is very important. (You could “hide” this actor in false hair and beard or the like and have him double from time to time.)

Mrs.Higgins should be about 20 years older than Higgins. She is high British, cultured, educated, and as accustomed to creature comforts as her son. She is also edgy and prickly, like her son, and their relationship reflects this. She generally disapproves of Henry, and one gets a sense that she may be disappointed with his development as a man and as a human being. More sensitive to Liza than the men, she does not approve of their treatment of the young lady and makes no secret of it. Direct if not wise, concerned if not involved. Not so much matronly (not much of a mother) as starchy and British, but with some edge, some salt in her soul.

Mrs. Pearce runs the house. 30s-50s. A physically capable and reasonably strong woman with a somewhat commanding presence, though she always defers in a proper and British manner to her employer, if not to those working under her. She considers herself superior to Liza in station, and in fact is so at the start. She is appalled that this dirty creature is being accepted into her house, in part because it represents many chores, in part because she sees it as degrading for herself and the household, and in part because she sees it as immoral for two mature men to being a young woman into the house to live there. Far be it from her to overtly question any of it, but she quietly disapproves of the whole business, and of Liza.

Zoltan Karparthy should be about Higgin’s age, oily, shifty, arrogant, European. A smooth and professional dancer and social climber, somewhat devious. The actor should double in the ensemble.

SETS:
The show’s original designs are justifiably famous for their richness and appeal, expensive and difficult to duplicate without extensive resources. You could go the more limited route with a unit set. Perhaps play the opening scene “in 1”, in front of the main drape on the apron of the stage, open the curtain to reveal Higgin’s house (where the majority of action takes place), and then drop a backdrop for Ascot in front of Higgin’s house (as I believe the Broadway in part did), and do the same for the Embassy Ball. This approach simplifies the sets, but may appear a bit stingy. You could even use rear projections, but for Higgin’s, you will need actual furniture and machinery for him to ply his trade. I don’t think you should do this show on a small stage, personally. But it might be done in this manner on a mid-sized stage.

You might attempt a more modern multimedia approach with rear projections and that sort of thing, but I can’t believe that would not cheapen the show. There are a number of sets, and to do this show, I think you must be in a position to create them. Some aspects such as ornate staircases might be rentals, or adapted from your own stored shop pieces. Also, you may wish to play with levels. Perhaps elevate the front door and entrance space into Higgin’s so that visitors are “spotlit,” and have them step down into the room. This will give Liza and Doolittle an entrance of sorts into Higgin’s world, so different from their own.

The street scenes with Freddy could be played in 1, with a few streetlamps.

COSTUMES:
Again, the costumes were famously lush and/or grimy and appropriate for the original Broadway production. Watch the film and you’ll get some good ideas. This is bound to be expensive. Sure, you could try the hoary, old “we’re performing this as if it was a “rehearsal” for My Fair Lady” bit, in common modern clothes, and without a set. But why? You’ll only lessen the impact of the show considerably. Many of the costumes for this show can probably be rented, and if you have an active costume shop in your theater, you will doubtless have pieces that can be used or adapted. But it is possible you will also need to build a few things.

This is a Victorian-age fairy tale, and costuming should reflect both the age and the fantasy. Handsome upper-class men are handsome and upper class, the Ball is filled with royalty, it is Cinderella. And since that’s so, Liza will need the appropriate gown.

Freddy must be a gentleman with cane, top hat, etc, but it’s stock costuming for the period. Higgins, more relaxed, a working man. Pickering, a bit more dressed up than Higgins, but not going to the opera dressed-up, like Freddy. Doolittle must be the epitome of dirty, greasy, dustman. That calls for a specific kind of hat, by the way. Again, look at the film. For the men, get the shoes and hats right!

Women are more dressed up, even Mrs. Pearce, dressed to work in a fine house, but yes, dressed to work. The Victorian age in London had stratified classes, and they are largely defined by clothing, hair style and such. Gloves are a standard for dress-up, for women and many men. (Especially dandified men, like Freddy.) Even the poor like Liza and Doolittle wear gloves of sorts, perhaps missing the tops of fingers, in a futile attempt to belong to the Victorian world. The rich wear scarves, the poor do, too. The quality and cleanliness of the item dictates the class to which one belongs.

Liza’s clothes must clearly paint a picture of her evolution to street girl selling flowers, to Hungarian royalty (as Karparthy thinks of her). The burning of the clothes she first wears to Higgins is symbolic of her leaving that world behind, it is more than a joke or plot point. When we see her cleaned up and dressed in acceptable if simple clothes for a house of Higgin’s kind, she is changed already. And that change should progress. By the time she sings “The Rain In Spain,” the costume should have a touch more of the upper Victorian age feel to it. This all culminates obviously with the gown she wears to the Embassy Ball, when she is clearly Cinderella.

Higgins is also capable of some change, from the informal (but clean and professional) clothing he wears to work at his home, to tails and top hat for the Ball, and Ascot. He should be reasonably comfortable with such garb as this is all part of the world he was raised in. Liza, on the other hand, is always adjusting, always aware of the finery she’s wearing, perhaps even afraid to rip or distress it, even at the Ball where she needs her attention on the people around her. This character point, sustained, could be very interesting for the actress and audience. The clothes do not belong to her, in her mind, they were lent to her by Higgins.

This is also true of the show as a whole. We see in the first scene the two classes collide, and that is what the show is about. Clothing makes the man (and woman) and tells the tale.

Speaking of fairy tales, “Just You Wait” presents the King (I suppose Prince Albert? This always seemed a problem to me, as Victoria ruled without a king…) and guards who should be Swiss Guards, and these can be fantasy costumes, adorned and over-the-top fun.

For this show, the costumer needs to work particularly well with the director. And remember, Liza and Higgins must sing, so let them breathe in their costumes. Same with Freddy.

PROPS:
The equipment Higgin’s uses to teach is most unusual! You may well have to build these pieces, and they involve some electronics. Again, the film shows them off clearly and well.

Canes, gloves (if not a part of costumes), shawls and the like will be needed in numbers. For the poor on the street you’ll need chimney sweep brooms, flowers in buckets appropriate for the period, coin of the realm, a notepad for Higgins which slips into his overcoat.

Chocolates which Higgins eats and offers as a reward for Liza are an interesting problem, as a singer is going to have a very hard time after eating one! You’ll need to work with the actors to solve this one, but I sure would not use chocolate, or anything gooey, sticky, or messy. That’s sure to anger actors and those responsible for the upkeep of costumes.

LIGHTING:
Professional, rich, bright, and unobtrusive for most of the show. There are nighttime sequences, such as the opening scene, and the street scene with Freddy under streetlights singing “On The Street Where You Live.” There will need to be enough light to support musical numbers, obviously.

A follow spot will probably be obtrusive for My Fair Lady, except in the Doolittle numbers, which resemble British Music Hall. For those numbers, a follow spot will accent what they are.

MAKE-UP:
Unobtrusive. And the costumes are expensive, so powder down! This will be particularly vital for the upper class costuming which will be quickly destroyed if you don’t set the make-up well. You may go make-up-lite for ensemble, for this reason, while they wear expensive costumes. Doolittle and friends are dirty, their costumes are distressed, probably, so a little make-up on the clothes (so long as that’s not what it looks like) will just add to the overall feel.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):
Director, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Music Director, Stage Manager, Higgins. Eliza, Pickering.

MY THOUGHTS:
I was born three months after this show opened on Broadway, so I can make no claim to having seen the original production. But a man who helped manage one of the musicals I authored through William Morris, Biff Liff, was the original Stage Manager for the first Broadway production! Meeting him, I felt a bit like I was meeting royalty, largely for this reason.

This is a very special and wonderful show. There is no show anything like it. The fact that it is pretty much flawless isn’t necessarily what makes it so wonderful, but it doesn’t hurt. You will rarely get to sing songs of the caliber found in My Fair Lady in another musical, it just doesn’t happen. The dialogue, largely being that of George Bernard Shaw, probably the finest English language playwright of the 20th century, is monumental, it soars and sings of its own accord. The characters are uncommonly rich and interesting for any sort of theater, much less a Musical Theater that often trades in banal characters and dialogue. This is a show for the ambitious, who have the experience and the wherewithal to support the dream. If you can do this show well, you are a pro.