Adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play and Gabriel Pascal's motion picture Pygmalion.
This production is performed through special arrangements with Tams-Witmark Music Library, Inc.
This production is performed through special arrangements with Tams-Witmark Music Library, Inc.
A Teacher Resource Guide
by Steven Michael Borowka
with additional materials by Erica Nagel
and courtesy of Celise Kalke and
The Court Theatre, Chicago
Designed by Francine Schiffman
Web Design by Andrew Parks
Offered in conjunction with the
McCarter Theatre Production
Tuesday May 4, 2004 - Sunday June 27, 2004
"A masterpiece... Don't miss it!"
- Chicago Sun-Times
My Fair Lady, based on George Bernard Shaw's classic play Pygmalion, tells the familiar story of Eliza Doolittle, a Covent Garden flower peddler who agrees to take speech lessons from phonetician Henry Higgins in order to fulfill her dream of working in a flower shop. However, Eliza succeeds so well that she outgrows her lowly social status, and manages to become an indispensable part of Higgins' life.
The original 1956 production of My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews helped define the modern musical theater. The original production enjoyed a seven year run on Broadway leading to the 1964 film which won several Oscars, including Best Picture.
To end the 2003 - 2004 season at McCarter, director Gary Griffin has taken this classic Broadway musical and reinvented it in a fresh new production designed to fit the intimate Berlind Stage. By stripping the show to its core, the power, brilliance and humor of the original pour forth with new life.
This illuminating new production of the beloved American musical is performed by a cast of 10, using a rarely-heard two-piano arrangement. Foregoing elaborate sets and extravagant production numbers, McCarter Theatre's My Fair Lady will focus on Eliza's emotional journey.
This guide serves as a resource that will enhance the performance for its audiences, detailing the journey that My Fair Lady took from its origins as a Greek myth to Shaw's Pygmalion to the production here at the McCarter Theatre. Throughout this guide you will find suggested topics for class discussion (both before and after the performance) and in-class activities. If you have further questions or comments about this guide or the performance, please contact Steven Michael Borowka, McCarter Education Associate, at (609) 258-8288.
The Visual and Performing Arts are considered Core Curriculum areas for the New Jersey State Department of Education. This production of My Fair Lady is designed to give your students exposure to the specific Core Curriculum Standards listed below.
My Fair Lady and Curriculum Standards
This production of My Fair Lady and related study materials will provide students with specific knowledge and skills to address the following Core Curriculum Content Standards in the Arts:
1.1 All students will acquire knowledge and skills that increase aesthetic awareness in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts. 1.3 All students will utilize arts elements and arts media to produce artistic products and performances. 1.4 All students will demonstrate knowledge of the process of critique. 1.5 All students will identify the various historical, social, and cultural influences and traditions which have generated artistic accomplishments throughout the ages and which continue to shape contemporary arts.
My Fair Lady is also designed to address the following Core Curriculum Standards in Language Arts Literacy and Social Studies:
3.2 All students will listen actively in a variety of situations to information from a variety of sources. 3.3 All students will write in clear, concise, organized language that varies in content and form for different audiences and purposes. 3.4 All students will read various materials and texts with comprehension and critical analysis. 6.2 All students will learn democratic citizenship through the humanities, by studying literature, art, history and philosophy, and related fields. 6.7 All students will acquire geographical understanding by studying the world in spatial terms.
London, 1912. It is a blustery March evening outside Covent Garden, where flower girls are selling bouquets. Dapper young Freddy Eynsford-Hill accidentally bumps into Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower merchant, causing her flowers to fall into the mud. As she protests volubly, Professor Henry Higgins, a distinguished phonetician interested in all kinds of dialects, laments that of all nationalities, the English are the ones incapable of speaking their own language correctly. He tells Eliza that he and his newfound friend and fellow phonetician, Colonel Pickering can teach her to speak like a lady. Pickering and Higgins decide to turn this experiment into a bet; to see if they can pass Eliza off as a duchess.
Julia Andrews as Eliza Doolittle,
The next day, Eliza appears at Higgins' home ready to learn, but her Cockney mannerisms and morals become so exasperating that Higgins nearly gives up. She, in turn, is driven to distraction by his thoughtless treatment and incessant instruction. Finally, however, she triumphantly learns correct pronunciation. As one of her lessons, Higgins takes Eliza to the Ascot Races and introduces her to society for the first time. She at once attracts the attentions of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who follows her home, hoping to see her again. Finally, after months of hard work, she is ready for the big test, and is taken to a splendid ball. While there, she succeeds in brilliantly convincing all that she is a royal duchess.
Julie Andrews as the transformed Eliza,
After the ball, Higgins and Pickering congratulate each other on their technical work, completely forgetting Eliza. Hurt and angry, she rushes out of the house, and runs into Freddy. He professes his love, but she demands that he stop talking about it. When Higgins awakes in the morning he discovers that Eliza is gone, and muses on the frailties of women. Higgins is now haunted by reminders of the way she has changed his life. The musical ends with an encounter between Eliza and Higgins that suggests each has made a lasting impression on the other.
Henry Higgins is a middle-aged confirmed bachelor, a professor of phonetics and an expert elocutionist. He is an unconventional man who goes in the opposite direction from the rest of society in most matters. He is impatient with high society, forgetful in his public graces, and inconsiderate of normal social niceties. He has no desire to have romance of any kind in his life.
"What could possibly matter more than to take a human being and change her into a different human being by creating a new speech for her?"
Eliza Doolittle is a poor girl in her early twenties who dreams of working in a flower shop while she sells flowers in England's Covent Garden. She employs Henry Higgins to help her with her speech and begins to transform herself into a regal figure fit to consort with nobility. In the end, she not only passes for a duchess, but becomes an independent woman.
"I sold flowers. I didn't sell myself. Now you've made a lady of me, I'm not fit to sell anything else."
Colonel Pickering is a kindly middle-aged man who shares Higgins' passion for phonetics. Pickering is always considerate and a genuine gentleman who helps in the Eliza experiment by making a wager of it, saying he will cover the costs if Higgins does indeed make a convincing duchess of Eliza. It is Pickering's thoughtful treatment towards Eliza that teaches her to respect herself.
"Does it occur to you, Higgins, that the girl has some feelings?"
|Alfred P. Doolittle||
Alfred P. Doolittle is Eliza's father and a dustman, or trash collector who has a very unique 'morality', in that he is very happy to be a freeloader. When he learns that his daughter has entered the home of Henry Higgins, he quickly follows to see if he can get some money out of the circumstance. His unique brand of rhetoric, unembarrassed, unhypocritical advocacy of drink and pleasure (at other people's expense), is amusing to Higgins.
"I ain't pretending to be deserving. I'm undeserving, and I mean to go on being undeserving. I like it, and that's the truth."
Freddy Eynsford-Hill is an aristocrat, although he has no income of his own. He becomes lovesick for Eliza, and courts her with letters. At the play's close, Freddy offers Eliza a viable marriage option if she would only accept his affections.
"People stop and stare. They don't bother me. For there's nowhere else on earth that I would rather be. Let the time go by, I won't care if I can be here on the street where you live."
Mrs. Higgins is Professor Higgins' mother, who is in her sixties and a very refined lady of the upper-middle class. She sees the Eliza Doolittle experiment as idiocy and is the first and only character to have any qualms about the whole affair. When her worries prove true, it is to her that all the characters turn. Because no woman can match up to his mother, Higgins claims, he has no interest in dallying with them.
"Ascot is usually the one place I can come to with my friends and not run the risk of seeing my son. Whenever my friends meet him, I never see them again."
|Professor Zoltan Karpathy||
Professor Zoltan Karpathy is a Hungarian and a former student of Higgins. He is also a rival phonetics expert, in his own mind if not in Higgins', and quite proud of his linguistic accomplishments. He hires out his services to the queen of Transylvania.
"I speak thirty-two languages. I know everybody in Europe. No imposter escapes my detection."
Mrs. Pearce is Higgins' housekeeper who helps to care for the well being of Eliza Doolittle. She is an observer of this experiment and watches to make sure that Eliza is kept safe.
"I must know on what terms the girl is to be here. What is to become of her when you've finished your teaching? You must look ahead a little, sir."
Bell's Visible Speech - invented by Melville Bell in the mid-19th century, the first system or notating the sounds of speech independent of the choice of particular language or dialect.
Bilious - of or containing bile; characterized by or experiencing gastric distress caused by a disorder of the liver or gallbladder.
Blimey - a Cockney expletive since late 19th century; a corruption of Gorblimey, in turn a corruption of "God blind me."
Bloke - British slang for a fellow; a man.
Boisterous - Loud, noisy, and lacking in restraint or discipline.
Broad Romic - international method of notation for all spoken sounds, so called because it is based on the common Roman-letter alphabet, using only the practically necessary distinctions in each language.
Consort - To keep company; associate.
Contrite - Feeling regret and sorrow for one's sins or offenses; penitent.
Costermonger - One who sells fruit, vegetables, fish, or other goods from a cart, barrow, or stand in the streets.
Crumpets - a small flat round of bread, baked on a griddle and usually served toasted.
Dolt - A stupid person; a dunce.
Eccentric - Departing from a recognized, conventional, or established norm or pattern.
Enthralling - To hold spellbound; captivate.
Flippancy - Marked by disrespectful levity or casualness.
Guttersnipe - a very uncouth and insulting word for a person of the lowest class.
Hungarian Rhapsody - song from Hungary with music composed by Ferenc Liszt, who lived from 1811-1886.
Ignoramus - An ignorant person.
Jabber - To talk rapidly, unintelligibly, or idly.
Off his chump - British slang for insane or mad; sometimes drunk.
Philandering - The practicing of engaging in many love affairs, especially with a frivolous or casual attitude.
Rhetoric - The art or study of using language effectively and persuasively.
Shirk - To avoid or neglect (a duty or responsibility).
Sniveling - To complain or whine tearfully.
Staunchly - Firmly and steadfastly.
Trifling - Something of little importance or value.
Tomfoolery - Foolish behavior.
Tosh - Foolish nonsense.
Vacillating - Swaying from one side to the other.
Vicar - the priest of a parish in the Church of England who receives a stipend or salary but does not receive the tithes of a parish.
Windsor Castle - official residence of The Queen and the largest occupied castle in the world, high above the River Thames in Windsor.
The Myth of Pygmalion
Excerpts of a Prose Translation
from Ovid's poem.
Translated by Thoman Bulfinch, 1855
Pygmalion saw so much to blame in women that he came at last to abhor the sex, and resolved to live unmarried. He was a sculptor, and had made with wonderful skill a statue of ivory, so beautiful that no living woman came anywhere near it... Pygmalion admired his own work, and at last fell in love with the counterfeit creation. Oftentimes he laid his hand upon it as if to assure himself whether it were living or not, and could not even then believe that it was only ivory... He laid her on a couch spread with cloths of Tyrian dye, and called her his wife.
Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune Born 1741, Died 1814. Draftsman, Painter, Printmaker French Pygmalion's statue comes to life. (Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide, Paris 1806).
The festival of Venus (Aphrodite) was at hand - a festival celebrated with great pomp at Cyprus... When Pygmalion had performed his part in the solemnities, he stood before the altar and timidly said, "Ye gods, who can do all things, give me, I pray you, for my wife" - he dared not say "my ivory virgin," but said instead - "one like my ivory virgin." Venus (Aphrodite), who was present at the festival, heard him and knew the thought he would have uttered... When he returned home, he went to see his statue, and leaning over the couch, gave a kiss to the mouth. It seemed to be warm. He pressed its lips again, he laid his hand upon the limbs; the ivory felt soft to his touch and yielded to his fingers... It was indeed alive! The virgin felt the kisses and blushed, and opening her timid eyes to the light, fixed them at the same moment on her lover. Venus blessed the nuptials she had formed and from this union Paphos was born, from whom the city, sacred to Venus, received its name.
George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion both delighted and scandalized its first audiences in 1914. A brilliantly witty reworking of the Ovid tale of a sculptor who falls in love with his perfect female statue, it is also a barbed attack on the British class system and a statement of Shaw's feminist views. In Shaw's hands, the phoneticist Henry Higgins is the Pygmalion figure who believes he can transform Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl, into a duchess at ease in polite society. The one thing he overlooks is that his 'creation' has a mind of her own. Pygmalion nevertheless probes important questions about social class, human behavior, and relations between the sexes.
Hoping to circumvent what he felt was the tendency of the London press to criticize his plays unfairly, Shaw chose to produce a German translation of Pygmalion in Vienna and Berlin before bringing the play to London. The London critics appreciated the acclaim the play had received overseas, and, after it opened at His Majesty's Theatre on April 11, 1914, it enjoyed success, firmly establishing Shaw's reputation as a popular playwright.
The popularity of the play caused its leap from stage to screen. Shaw was always reluctant to have his plays filmed because he would not tolerate any tampering with his dialogue, but he was persuaded by Gabriel Pascal to allow a film version of Pygmalion. Writing the screenplay for the film version of 1938 helped Shaw to become the first and only man ever to win both the Nobel Prize for literature and an Academy Award.
However, concessions were extracted from Shaw by the film's producers, who changed the ending and watered down some of the supporting characters. Before the film came out, Shaw in fact wrote a 'sequel' to his first publication of the play. This was to solidify his ending and rebut any possible public demand for a more conventionally romantic ending.
"Strangely enough, the flower seller, as a rule, has no love - for flowers. She knows that her customers like them, and appreciate a well-arranged buttonhole, but where the great attraction lies she herself cannot understand. How seldom you see a flower girl wearing a flower! That her male associates should be insensible to the charm of their goods is less surprising. Probably the only personal use a coster ever made of a flower was to put the stalk in his mouth and chew it."
- Round London : Down East and Up West, by Montagu Williams Q.C., 1894
The flower girls of London were girls and women of the lower class who earned their living by selling flowers in the open markets, restaurants, or door to door at London homes. Girls as young as six years old sold small bunches of violets or single roses; once out childhood, flower sellers sold bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, and potted flowers. Sales techniques were often aggressive; women called out to customers, waited outside of theatres and restaurants, and would even pin flowers to customers before they had agreed to buy them. A flower seller like Eliza Doolittle would have made about 38 pounds per year, while a lady in a shop could earn up to 300 pounds per year.
1856 - George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, in a lower-middle class family of Scottish-Protestant ancestry.
George Bernard Shaw
1876 - Shaw became involved in progressive politics. To hold the attention of the crowd, he developed an energetic and aggressive speaking style that is evident in all of his writing.
1891 - Shaw wrote his first play, Widower's Houses. For the next twelve years, he wrote close to a dozen plays, though he generally failed to persuade the managers of the London theatres to produce them.
1898 - Shaw married Charlotte Payne-Townsend, an Irish woman of independent means. Their marriage (quite possibly sexually unconsummated) lasted until Charlotte's death in 1943.
1904 - Candida was the first of eleven Shaw plays to be produced at London's Court Theatre.
1912 - Shaw wrote Pygmalion for Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
1914 - The outbreak of World War I changed Shaw's life. For Shaw, the war represented the bankruptcy of the capitalist system, the last desperate gasps of the nineteenth-century empires, and a tragic waste of young lives, all under the guise of patriotism. He expressed his opinions in a series of newspaper articles under the title Common Sense About the War.
1925 - Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. (He donated the cash award towards an English edition of playwright August Strindberg, who had never been recognized with a Nobel prize). Shaw's plays were now regularly produced and revived in London. In the late 1920s, a Shaw festival was established in England.
1950 - Shaw fell off a ladder and died a few days later at age 94. He had been at work on yet another play (Why She Would Not). In his will, he left a large part of his estate to a project to revamp the English alphabet.
Much of the above chronology is excerpted from Cary M. Mazer's biography of Shaw written for the University of Pennsylvania's theatre department. Cary M. Mazer is Associate Professor of Theatre Arts and English at the University of Pennsylvania, and Chair of the Theatre Arts Program. He was the acting dramaturg on their 2002 production of Major Barbara by Bernard Shaw.
In 1952 film producer Gabriel Pascal approached lyricist Alan Jay Lerner with the idea that Shaw's play be converted into a musical. Lerner and composer Fritz Loewe worked on the project for some six months but were discouraged by their lack of progress. However after several more months, My Fair Lady began to take a promising shape. In addition Lerner and Loewe's adaptation was uncommonly faithful to its source and retained much of Shaw's original dialogue. However, the ending of the play was something that Lerner and Shaw disagreed on. Pygmalion has an ambiguous ending - Higgins' last line is "Nonsense - she's going to marry Freddy. Ha ha ha!....". In publication, Shaw added a prose epilogue in which he explains that Eliza did indeed marry Freddy.
As a response to this, Lerner included the following note in the libretto of My Fair Lady:
"I have omitted the sequel because in it Shaw explains how Eliza ends not with Higgins but with Freddy and - Shaw and Heaven forgive me! - I am not certain he is right."
Instead Lerner penned what is possibly the most memorable closing line in the whole of musical theatre:
"Eliza? Where the devil are my slippers?"
On 13th June, 1961, My Fair Lady became the longest-running production in Broadway history, outdistancing the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical play, Oklahoma! By that time it had been seen by over three million patrons, and had earned almost forty million dollars. The national tour began on March 18th, 1957 and ran for several years, and broke box-office records in city after city.
Pygmalion Movie Poster
My Fair Lady Broadway Poster
My Fair Lady Movie Poster
Did You Know?
Freddy's song "On the Street Where You Live" was almost cut after a lukewarm reception at the out-of-town preview - it was retained at the last minute and has gone on to become one of the most popular songs in the show. Higgins' songs were all specially written to accommodate Rex Harrison's unique "non-singing" vocal style.
It took many years for the American musical theatre to acquire its own identity. The first musical production in the Colonies was Flora, a performance that took place in a court room in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 8, 1735. Flora was a ballad opera imported from England, a form that remained popular in the Colonies for several decades.
During the early 1900s, more imports from European operetta, such as Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow (1907), had enormous influence on the development of the American musical. However, the legacy of vaudeville was still evident in the work of composers such as George M. Cohan (1878-1942). In the 1910s, Florenz Ziegfeld introduced his Follies, the ultimate stage revue, and Jerome Kern took the American musical a step further by putting believable characters and situations on the musical stage.
In the 1920s and 30s, American musical comedy gained worldwide influence. Broadway saw the composing debuts of Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, George and Ira Gershwin, and many others. Meanwhile, the next decade brought the Gershwins' Of Thee I Sing (1931), the first musical ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Vintage Broadway poster of New York's famous theatre district; artist unknown.
The early 1940s continued the musical comedy trends of the '30s. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma (1943) was the first fully integrated musical play, using every song and dance to develop the characters or the plot.
During the 1950s, the music of Broadway became the popular music of the western world. Great stories told with memorable songs and dances were the order of the day, resulting in such classic hits as The King and I (Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1951) and Gypsy (Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, 1959). These musicals were shaped by four key elements: the composers, the lyricists, the directors, and famous female performers.
As popular musical tastes shifted in the 60's, the popularity of the traditional Broadway musical faded. The rock musical "happening" Hair (1968) was hailed as a landmark, but it ushered in a period of confusion in the musical theatre. Composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim and director Hal Prince refocused the genre in the 1970s by introducing "concept musicals" - shows built around an idea rather than a traditional plot. Company (1970), Follies (1972), and A Little Night Music (1973) are examples of this idea of a concept musical which peaked with A Chorus Line (1974), conceived and directed by Michael Bennett.
The 80's became the decade of the mega-musical, bringing a succession of long-running "Brit hits" to Broadway. Musicals such as Cats (1982), Les Miserables (1987), and Phantom of the Opera (1988) relied heavily on special effects and marketing.
By the 1990s, new mega-musicals were no longer winning the public, and costs were so high that even long-running hits (Crazy for You, 1992; Sunset Boulevard, 1994) were unable to turn a profit on their investment. New stage musicals now required the backing of multi-million dollar corporations to develop and succeed - a trend proven by Disney's Lion King (1997), and Livent's Ragtime (1997). Even Rent (1996) and Titanic (1997) were fostered by smaller, Broadway-based corporate entities.
Cast of Rent, 1999
Although American musical theatre is a thriving institution, artistically and commercially, it is unclear as to where the next big success in American musicals will be. As long running mega musicals begin to close, Broadway has turned to creating pieces based on popular rock tunes (Contact, 2000; Movin' Out, 2004). Musicals have also begun to accrue huge financial success with musical adaptations of movies such as The Producers, 2001; Thoroughly Modern Millie, 2002; and Hairspray, 2003. The past few years have also relied heavily on the success of revivals. Since 2000 Broadway has revived over sixteen musicals including Gypsy, 42nd Street, and Oklahoma. There are certain American Musicals that will always live on through their revivals, movie productions, and exceedingly popular score. My Fair Lady is clearly one of these musicals.
The Golden Age of the American Musical
Alan Jay Lerner - playwright and lyricist; born August 31, 1918; New York; died June 14, 1986.
Frederick Loewe - composer; born June 10, 1904; Vienna, Austria; died Feb 14, 1988.
The collaborative team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe dominated the Broadway stage and American musical theater from 1947 into the 1960s and their musicals - Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, and Camelot - still live on in revival performances and in their film adaptations.
Alan Lerner met Frederick Loewe by chance at the Lambs Club in New York City in 1942. Their first collaboration was Life of the Party, in 1942 - an adaptation of Barry Conner's farce, The Patsy. It ran for nine weeks, and they followed it with What's Up? in 1943 and The Day Before Spring in 1945. But these were just warm-ups for the following productions that astonished and amazed Broadway audiences:
Paint Your Wagon
My Fair Lady
43 BC - 17 AD - The Roman poet Ovid first wrote down the Greek myth of Pygmalion, about a misogynist who creates a statue of the perfect woman.
1912 - George Bernard Shaw wrote his Pygmalion.
1914 - The first English language production of Pygmalion. It starred Mrs. Campbell and was directed by Shaw. It was a huge success and established Shaw as a commercially successful playwright.
1938 - The film version of Pygmalion written by Shaw. The film was hugely successful and nominated for an Academy Award.
1952 - Lerner and Loewe are approached by Gabriel Pascal to adapt Pygmalion.
1956 - My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe opened on Broadway and starred Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison.
1964 - The film version of My Fair Lady debuts, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. It won eight Academy awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture.
1987 - Pygmalion is revived on Broadway. This production starred Peter O'Toole as Henry Higgins and Amanda Plummer as Eliza Doolittle.
1993 - The third revival of My Fair Lady opens on Broadway. This time Richard Chamberlain takes the role of Henry Higgins.
By William O. Beeman
Mr. Beeman is a professor of linguistic anthropology and is also a member of the graduate faculty of Theater, Speech and Dance at Brown University. He is a professional opera and musical theater singer and author of The Third Line: the Opera Performer as Interpreter. The following article is excerpted from the Trinity Repertory Theatre Study Guide for My Fair Lady.
Linguists the world over have always found Henry Higgins a somewhat anomalous character. Occupying a position somewhere between a phonetics researcher and a speech therapist, there was no one quite like him in either counseling or in academia. Higgins' enterprise in My Fair Lady (and in its origin, Shaw's Pygmalion), the transformation of a "guttersnipe" into a duchess by changing the way she talks, is difficult, but as feasible today as in the 20th Century. And surprise! If one looks hard enough, one can find modern-day Higginses ready to erase accents, elevate vocabularies, and modify discourse patterns for people willing to pay. This need for Professor Higgins and his ilk arises because no population has a uniform speech variety. Every division of society is marked by a linguistic difference. Speech is one way groups that feel an affinity for each other mark their "groupness." Gender, ethnicity, social class, and age are just a few of the social differences universally marked by speech. All of us have experienced special language varieties for groups as small as two. We have special ways of speaking with our spouses, friends and lovers. The special speech characteristics common to larger groups are "accents" or "dialects," and can be used as a kind of identity tag.
Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in the movie
adaptation of My Fair Lady, 1964.
In the recent internal conflicts in Bosnia and other states in the former Yugoslavia, people moving from region to region often had to pass "pronunciation tests" to determine to which regional or ethnic group they belonged. If they couldn't pronounce certain key words with the right local sound they risked being denounced as spies. Speech varieties are variously elevated or stigmatized in the eyes of the broader public of a nation. This creates a fascinating push-pull effect in social life. People who see themselves as upwardly mobile try to shed their stigmatized speech and assimilate prestige speech as a way to symbolically join a more elevated social class. They may, in fact, "hyper-correct" their speech and use certain prestige variables even more frequently than the upper-class people they wish to emulate. Which speech forms are stigmatized and which are prestigious varies from group to group, so there is no set formula. It takes a linguistic anthropologist to discover how these varieties play out in any given community. For example, "post-vocalic r," or the sound "r" following a vowel is a prestige variable in New York City. In Boston even the wealthiest people can leave the "r" out of their speech and "Paak the caa in Haavaad Yaad" with impunity.
Those that want to change their speech need a Henry Higgins because starting at the age of six; human neural pathways begin to calcify. Before that age, a child can learn and number of speech varieties automatically, and with perfect accent-free fluency. After the age of 15 or so, the plasticity of speech diminishes greatly. It is nearly impossible to learn a foreign tongue without an accent as an adult, and it is just as hard to modify the pronunciation of one's own language. To make these changes as an adult, it is necessary to work for hours with a tape recorder or a therapist repeating endless iterations of "The rain in Spain" until the clumsy adult muscles and nerves slowly yield to the practice. Few people can be bothered with such torture. They feel that their accomplishments will speak for them, and that the world will overlook irregularities in their speech. Alas, it is not true. Stigmatized speech produces an unconscious effect on hearers, stigmatizing the individual using it. It is hard for people to accept the authority of individuals speaking with accents that are deemed sub-standard. For this reason, savvy professional people whose first language is something other than American English flock to the studios of New York's modern day Higgins, Sam Chwat, to have their accents "erased," as a step toward social and economic success. Whether such therapy truly has the desired social effects is of course the whole point of Higgins' bet with Colonel Pickering. Eliza can be taken as royalty if she can be coached to speak a prestigious variety of English. However, one wonders whether modern day Elizas have better chances of being accepted to Ivy League schools, hired in Wall Street firms, or joining the Junior League. Certainly today Americans tolerate a wider variety of speech forms. Media figures speaking regional varieties of English broaden the palate of acceptable educated speech. Princeton English is no longer the only accepted variety for educated U.S. citizens.
Nevertheless, despite this modest democratization, the drive to hierarchy still lurks in America (and England) today. Professor Higgins will likely have customers for some time to come.
Other Retellings of the My Fair Lady Story
Beginning with Ovid, the Pygmalion story has been interpreted and adapted by countless writers and artists. There have been several examples of creators whose experiments have unforeseen implications. Faust, Dr. Frankenstein and Svengali are cases in point.
This theme lives on and can be found in recent films as well. In the following films, the teacher or mentor is older, condescending, and intellectual, while the student is dehumanized even as (s)he makes the way up the social ladder. At last, the teacher is forced (perhaps too late) into recognizing his 'creation' as an equal.
My Fair Lady
Lyrics and Book by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Gary Griffin
Musical Direction by Thomas Murray
|Professor Henry Higgins||Michael Cumpsty|
|Eliza Doolittle||Kate Fry|
|Colonel Hugh Pickering||Simon Jones|
|Alfred Doolittle||Michael McCarty|
|Freddy Eynsford-Hill||Jim Stanek|
|Mrs. Higgins||Jane Connell|
|Mrs. Pearce||Patricia Kilgarriff|
|Mrs. Hopkins/Mrs. Eynsford-Hill||Brenda Martindale|
|Harry/ Prince/ Charles||Jeff Edgerton|
|Karpathy/ Costermonger/ Butler||Stephen Mo Hanan|
|Pianists||Thomas Murray/ Charles Sundquist|
|Set Design||John Culbert|
|Costume Design||Nan Cibula-Jenkins|
|Lighting Design||Chris Binder|
|Sound Design||Dan Moses Schreier|
|Dialect Coach||Stephen Gabis|
|Producing Director||Mara Isaacs|
|Director of Production||David York|
|Production Stage Manager||Cheryl Mintz|
by Jason Loewith, artistic administrator of Court Theatre
Hip theatergoers with deconstruction on their minds can easily find Tennesse Williams in a bathtub, or a kabuki Emperor Jones. But tracking down a re-imagined 20th-Century American musical requires detective work and lots of patience. What makes the great musicals so tamper-resistant? And will anyone dare to break the seal?
Deliberately and carefully, director Gary Griffin and musical director Tom Murray are re-envisioning large-scale musicals in small-scale venues. The Chicago Sun-Times hailed their 10-man Pacific Overtures as a "gorgeously imagined" chamber production.
Reduced orchestrations, of course, are nothing new; they're often quickly licensed after Broadway musicals close to enable tours and small theaters to produce them (in fact, the two-piano version of My Fair Lady was successfully mounted in 1999 by Trinity Rep, directed by Amanda Dehnert with a cast of 27). But Griffin and Murray are shrinking cast sizes, too, and they're trying to make a point by doing it.
Reducing the orchestra without reducing the cast runs the risk of presenting the Broadway experience in a scaled-down, provincial way... a notion they reject. "We're not interested in doing 'reductions'," asserts Griffin, "we're revealing the internal engine of the work. We're discovering the heart of the show."
Griffin and Murray are making huge leaps – and taking big chances. When Pacific Overtures (1976) and My Fair Lady (1956) opened on Broadway, more than 30 actors and pit orchestras to match led the way. But Griffin and his team eschewed traditionally elaborate designs and the proscenium experience in favor of a bare-bones arena staging for Pacific Overtures, with only 10 actors and 5 musicians. Striking additions to simple costumes achieved a fluid scene-to-scene momentum. Turning expectation on its ear, they defamiliarized the audience's experience of musical form and invited a fresh perspective. "The first production [directed by Harold Prince, with sets by Boris Aronson] was really a pageant," says Murray. "In our approach, the eye doesn't feast; the brain feasts."
To achieve this altered vision, Griffin and Murray spent months fusing new "ensemble tracks" of multiple roles for each performer, creating a challenge for the storytelling's clarity. But the trade-off was an emphasis on character, enabling each performer to sculpt a unique journey. "I can do ensemble numbers by coaching each person individually now," says Murray. "It becomes a fabric of ten individuals bringing their own voices to a number, as opposed to thirty people singing the same vowel."
Griffin and Murray cite artistic advantages like these when the inevitable question arises: isn't this just a cheap way to do a big musical? Though the financial benefits of this "chamberization" are undeniable, the pair couldn't be more emphatic: "that's just a byproduct of our approach," Murray claims. So much time has passed since these musicals were created, they contend, that the forms almost demand to be deconstructed to reveal the works' essence. The advent of chorus-less musicals like Company (1970) so seriously challenged audience understanding of the musical-theater form that such re-imaginings are not only conceivable, but can serve to reinvigorate a work that's grown stale or commonplace.
"[Company creators Stephen Sondheim and George Furth] played with form in ways that made a lot more possible," Griffin explains. "The songs aren't book songs as much as they're character commentary; they don't interrupt the flow of the scene."
Using an intimate quintet instead of a chorus, Griffin hopes to create a similar flow in My Fair Lady. "From Eliza's arrival at the study to Ascot, it should feel all like one long montage," he hopes. "Not: Scene. Scene. Scene. Scene." Encountering the work in this defamiliarized way helps the artists and audience "zoom in" on the musical's core. "We're talking about just charting Eliza's emotional journey and transformation. Everything is about THAT, every production decision is about THAT. We're just focusing on what Eliza DOES."
During the lunch break of a recent rehearsal, Musical Director Thomas Murray took some time to talk with Steven Michael Borowka, Education Associate at McCarter, about his job as musical director, the rehearsal process and his hopes for this production.
How did the idea for this production come about?
Initially it was a reaction to a play that Gary and I had seen that used the same concept; it focused on the essentials of the play. It was a version of a play by Ibsen and the writer had taken the essential lines out of the play and created a much smaller play based on the original. It was very engaging. And we thought, 'well wouldn't it be really cool to do that with musical theater?', but we didn't think we could, so we left the idea. But then light bulb went off and we thought, 'well, why don't we do it?' So the idea became to do something with a strong text and a strong score, and we thought, 'My Fair Lady.' And then we found this score written for two pianos.
Who wrote this arrangement?
It was actually written by Fritz Loewe's dance arranger for the show. Her name was Trude Rittman. She was one of the great old Broadway dance arrangers at that time, in the 50s. She did the ballets of Oklahoma. She wrote this two piano arrangement of My Fair Lady under Loewe's supervision. It sort of disappeared, and never got used until about five years ago, when Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence did a production that used two pianos and then people became aware of it. It's really good.
Director Gary Griffin has decided to feature the two pianos on stage. Can you talk about this decision?
In this production, all of the elements are exposed. We do scene changes, not in full light, but they are visible. We are not trying to hide the fact that we are creating this world. We feel the making of the music of this world is pretty important. So we decided to put the pianos onstage, which will not only sound better, but make it clear that there's no hidden orchestra. If the people see the pianos when they come in, they'll immediately anticipate a different kind of musical, and be excited by that.
How do the songs in the piece help tell the story?
The songs occur in moments of discovery or places of exploration. All of the songs go inside a specific moment. For example where Shaw says "Well why can't the English teach their children how to speak," the composer and the lyricist look at that and say that's a great opportunity to go deeper and explore what that might mean. All of the songs are a deepening exploration of a moment. In Eliza's case, it's usually a discovery she has just made. In "Loverly," the first song she sings, she gets some money, and the possibilities of what she could do with that money come alive to her.
What are your responsibilities as the musical director?
It starts with teaching the actor how to sing the song. That's the first step, teaching the notes, and all of the basics, the mechanics of the piece. After that we usually put it up on its feet and then the director signals what he wants to happen in the scene and stages it. Then we'll go back and we'll finesse the music to fit the scene and staging more tightly. Then we'll see how it works with the staging again, then the director will caress it a little bit more and manage it. It's a continuing process that goes back and forth between the director and the musical director. So in our case, it's really a collaboration.
How is the rehearsal process different here at the McCarter then it was at the Court Theatre?
When we did it for the first time at the Court, we thought, 'we think this will work, we hope it will work, but we aren't sure it will work'. Once we got it in front of an audience, we realized 'it does work.' So we came to the McCarter with that knowledge. But we're exploring the piece again with the new set of actors, so we don't come to it with a full blown conception of how it's supposed to work. That would just pigeonhole the actors into an earlier version of what it should be and that won't work. If it's going to come alive again at the McCarter, it has to come alive for the actors as well.
What do you say to the American musical purist?
We hope that people come to the show already knowing it, in a way. For them, this will be a new way of looking at the show. Sort of like another way of looking at Shakespeare. Musical theatre is now a one hundred year old tradition in the United States and it's at a point now where there are classics, just like there are classic plays. These classic shows are going to stand up to being re-examined and they won't be threatened by that. People will still do it the original way, but we are just hoping that people will focus on what the core drama of the show is. We're not saying we think this is better. We're just saying it's a good piece and we're just doing it differently.
This study guide enables leaders to explore drama as a mode of learning. Adding drama to the classroom is an active, process-orientated approach to education, in which the teacher and student interact together.
Drama-in-Education seeks to synthesize the activities of creative drama, arts-based curricula and theatre conventions into experiences aimed at developing imagination, awareness of self and others, aesthetic taste and life skills. Often these goals are achieved through the examination of a particular theme or topic, which contributes to critical thinking about the world in which we live. By providing structures and contexts, which both excite the interest of participants and call for creative problem-solving, Drama-in-Education promotes deeper thinking about a wide variety of issues.
This guide has been designed for teachers to utilize drama methods in an exploration of the themes and situations presented in the play. We encourage you to adapt these lessons and activities to your individual teaching situations, and thereby to discover the importance and power of drama in the classroom.
The following questions and activities are designed to help students anticipate the performance and then to build on their impressions and interpretations after attending the theatre. While most of the exercises provide specific instructions, please feel free to adapt these activities to accommodate your own teaching strategies and curricular needs.
1. Brainstorm a list of ideas and emotions that are associated with transformation. What thoughts, phrases, or memories are important for you? In what different ways can the term be defined? Choose one idea or emotion from the list created and write a short passage inspired by that thought. What themes or emotions are highlighted in this passage? What themes or emotions may be brought up in a play where a poor woman is transformed into one that can pass for a duchess?
2. In My Fair Lady, Eliza tries to improve her social and economic standing by changing the way she speaks. Do you think an accent would prevent someone from being hired in certain occupations? Which ones? Are there any positive things about having an accent? If you had an accent, which one would you choose? Why? What conclusions do you make when you meet someone with a specific accent?
3. Examine the Character Profiles in this guide and ask your students how they imagine each character will look, act, speak. Improvise scenes between two characters and explore their different relationships. Have students write about their experiences playing these characters.
4. To get an idea of the flow of action, read the Plot Synopsis provided in this guide. Then imagine that you are designing the set for this play. What would be your design concept, the visual idea that ties the whole production together? Is there a feeling or emotion that you would want to express through your design of this production? How would your design concept differ from that of the designs being done at McCarter Theatre? Prepare a design presentation for your class through drawings, visual aides or writing. Be prepared to field your classmates' questions about your design choices.
1. What surprised you the most in your viewing of My Fair Lady? How did this production compare to your expectations?
2. In India, a person's social class is determined by birth: not by accent, occupation or any other social factor. Had Eliza been born in India she would have been powerless to change her social standing. Research another country and write an essay or short story about how Eliza could change her social and financial standing in that culture.
3. Consider the character of Eliza. While viewing the performance, what decision did you suspect she would make upon the end of the play? Was this ending satisfying to you as an audience member? Do you think she made the right choice?
4. Consider each character in My Fair Lady. What are their specific wants at the beginning of the play? Do they achieve these desires by the end of the play? What choices do they make, and what tactics do they use to obtain these wants?
5. In the first half of the play, Eliza speaks with a cockney accent and vocabulary. In her speech at Ascot about her Aunt getting "done in", she has shed her accent but not her street vocabulary. Close friends often talk with a unique vocabulary and use personal expressions as well. Rewrite the following lines from the play using the expressions you would use with your close friends and read it to the class.
ELIZA: My aunt died of influenza, so they said. But it's my belief they done the old woman in.
MRS. HIGGINS: Done her in?
ELIZA: Yes, Lord love you! Why should she die of influenza when she come through diphtheria right enough the year before? Fairly blue with it she was. They all thought she was dead; but my father, he kept ladling gin down her throat. Then she came to so sudden that she bit the bowl off the spoon.
MRS. HIGGINS: Dear me!
ELIZA: Now, what call would a woman with that strength in her have to die of influenza, and what become of her new straw hat that should have come to me? Somebody pinched it. And what I say is, them as pinched it, done her in. have killed her.
The following exercises will allow students to participate in the process of drama. This process can be fleshed out and enchanted into a 'theatre' product. Again, please feel free to adapt these activities to accommodate your own teaching strategies and curricular needs.
1. Text to Text - Transformation is a major topic in the musical My Fair Lady, the play Pygmalion and the Greek myth. This subject continues to be prevalent in art and popular culture today. A few examples are Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, or the movies Mannequin and The Hulk. Find two other stories (in books or movies) where one of the characters transforms or is transformed by another. Create a chart and answer these questions about Pygmalion and your two stories. What changes about the person in the story? Does the person transform of their own volition or does someone else cause the change in them? Is the transformation perceived as good or bad? What makes it a good change or a bad change?
2. Hot-Seating - Choose one student to take on the role of one of the characters. Have the other students question and interrogate this character on the actions and choices this character has made. Have the class come up with several statements that could be said about this character and the choices they made. Consider the role of Higgins. Do you feel he is justified in his actions towards Eliza?
3. My Fair Lady: The Sequel - The ending of the play is one that has caused some controversy. How do you think the play should end? Do you agree with the ending you saw? Consider the characters of Eliza, Freddy and Higgins. Write a scene that takes place one year after the play has ended. Where do you see these characters? How have their lives altered? Improvise several different outcomes and perform the one scene that you feel truly captures these characters, in a year's time from when the play ends. It may also be interesting to see where Pickering is, or Alfred Doolittle. Feel free to bring in other characters that we might not have met, such as Alfred's new wife.
4. Speaking of Speech - Write a letter to a close friend in which you describe your personality - what you like to do, your skills, and any other information you find interesting about yourself. Now write the same letter to a potential employer. How are the two letters different? Do the letters have the same tone or do they use different language and expressions? Why do you believe this is the case?
5. Tableaux - Participants create a frozen picture which serves to crystallize an idea or to communicate a concrete image. These images may be brought to life or 'thought-tracked' by having individuals speak their inner thoughts. Have several students create a family portrait tableau. In what way can the students portray these characters' thoughts and emotions through only this frozen picture? Keep the frozen portrait. Have each student talk in role as their character about the other members of the household.
If you would like further information please look through any of the following sources which have been used in preparing this guide.
Chesterton, G.K. George Bernard Shaw. Oxford: House of Stratus Inc, 1956.
Holroyd, Michael. The Genius of Shaw. New York: Hodder & Stoughton General Division, 1979.
Kislan, Richard. The Musical: A Look at the American Musical Theatre. New York: Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1995.
Leary, Daniel J. Shaw's Plays in Performance. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983.
Lerner, Alan Jay. The Street Where I Live. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994.
Paterson, John. Edwardian: London Life and Letters. New York: Penguin, 1996.
Shaw, George Bernard. The Portable Bernard Shaw. Ed. Stanley Weintraub. New York:Viking Penguin, 1977.