'Ow 'Liza and the BBC Proms is doing 'My Fair Lady'?

 

Eliza Doolittle will screech in Cockney and sing posh as the quintessential London musical "My Fair Lady", a product of the Broadway stage, makes its BBC Proms debut on Saturday in a lavish production that owes a debt to Hollywood.

A starry cast including West End regulars Annalene Beechey as Eliza, Anthony Andrews of "Brideshead Revisited" fame as speech instructor Professor Henry Higgins and Alun Armstrong as Eliza's philandering dad will be backed by a 70-piece orchestra conducted by musical-revival specialist John Wilson.

Wilson, who has a CD coming out in October of "Rodgers & Hammerstein: At the Movies", relishes the challenge of making "My Fair Lady" come alive in the cavernous space of the Royal Albert Hall on the opening weekend of the summer-long festival.

"The reason for choosing 'My Fair Lady' is that the theme running through the Proms season this year is London, because of the Olympics...and it's perfect from every angle. I've known and loved it all my life," Wilson said.

But isn't it - wasn't it - written by Americans, based on the play "Pygmalion" by the playwright George Bernard Shaw who was himself...Irish?

"It is essentially by Americans but Alan Jay Lerner (books and lyrics) was an American who was a lifelong anglophile and Frederick Loewe (music) was an American who was born Viennese and was essentially writing in a hybrid light operetta American musical comedy tradition.

"The play is about the power of language defining (English) classes, but I've always said this is an American musical. We've got an American choreographer and we'll be playing this in a very Hollywood-Broadway idiom. So I'd say it's a very happy marriage of the two," Wilson told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The Hollywood angle arises from Wilson's decision to use the lavish orchestrations arranged by composer-conductor Andre Previn for the 1964 Hollywood film rather than the original orchestrations from the smash 1956 Broadway hit, which was for a pit orchestra about a third the size.

"I loved Andre Previn's adaptation of the score for the film," Wilson said.

"I think it was (film critic) Pauline Kael who said the film was the stage show embalmed and while that may not necessarily be a good thing, what it means is that the songs and dance routines very faithfully follow the theatre version. So we're using the theatre script but the orchestrations from the film which are much more luscious and call for an orchestra of 70 rather than 26."

So there's no doubt the music will be heard in the sometimes iffy acoustics of the 6,500-seat Royal Albert, but what about the musical itself? How has it held up more than a half century since its sensational Broadway premiere, with Rex Harrison as Higgins and the then little-known Julie Andrews as the Cockney flower girl with the dirty face and ragged clothes whom Higgins transforms into a woman with the style and speech of a duchess?

The original Broadway production had lyrics and touches, including a high-speed tape of women's voices nagging the misogynist Higgins, that were over the top even in the pre-feminist '50s.

PUTDOWN OF WOMANKIND

It's hard to imagine anyone today singing the lyrics from Higgins's putdown of all womankind, "A Hymn to Him", without raising a few hackles:

"Why is thinking something women never do?

Why is logic never even tried?

Straight'ning up their hair is all they ever do.

Why don't they straighten up the mess that's inside?"

Beechey says Eliza "gives as good as she gets" and triumphs by becoming independent of Higgins, who thought - not having any understanding of the gentle sex - that if he pulled the guttersnipe out of the gutter he could control her, too.

"She's a trailblazer, she was ahead of her time and I love that. She's so courageous and very bright and she changes everybody she comes in contact with, everybody that she meets, so it's fascinating to play," Beechey said in an interview before rehearsing the part last week.

But what of the appeal today of a half-century-old musical, set in Edwardian England, using no electric guitars or keyboards, no acrobats, gymnasts, trapeze artists or roller blades, and firmly rooted in the old operetta-Broadway tradition? "Rain in Spain", "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face", "Wouldn't It Be Loverly", "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "On the Street Where You Live" notwithstanding, is this not a dinosaur?

Perhaps the answer came at the box office where the seats were sold out in two hours, leaving only the standing room "prommer" tickets for sale on the night.

"The musical journey is just perfect, I'm not aware of any other score that so perfectly matches the character's growth in the vocal range," Beechey said. "And the songs, they're in everybody's psyche, aren't they?"

Reuters

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'