'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
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
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.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering