‘My Fair Lady’ is a superb, stylish musical: 1956 review

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Julie Andrews and other cast members during a scene from the play “My Fair Lady.”

(Originally published by the Daily News on March 16, 1956. This story was written by John Chapman.)

Everything about “My Fair Lady” is distinctive and distinguished. This musical embellishment of Bernard Shaw’s romantic comedy, “Pygmalion,” which was presented by Herman Levin last evening at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, is as fine a piece of work, of its kind, as our stage can be asked to give us. Not since “Guys and Dolls” have all the elements of a big musical production — the stars and the chorus, the sets and the costumes, the dances and the plot, the melodies and the lyrics — been blended so artfully and so enjoyably.

Two Fine Stars

“My Fair Lady” is not in the least like “Guys and Dolls” of course. The older musical was rough and hilarious and its melodies were bold. The new one is suave, its wit is dry and its score is less exuberant — but its score and the lyrics thereof fit so beautifully that they should not be done any other way. Oscar Straus wrote some wonderful melodies when he helped make “The Chocolate Soldier” out of other romantic comedy, “Arms and the Man” — but he wasn’t writing like Shaw. In “My Fair Lady” the composer, Frederick Loewe, and the lyrist, Alan Jay Lerner, have written much the way Shaw must have done had he been a musician instead of a music critic.

The could be no more captivating pair of players than Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews — and even dear Gertrude Lawrence was a no more enchanting Eliza Doolitle than is Miss Andrews. To watch Harrison, the speech professor, take Miss Andrews, the untidy cockney flower girl, and transform her into a hightoned lady, is to watch one of Shaw’s pleasantest comedies being acted with spirit and style. To hear them sing is an added delight. Miss Andrews is a gifted music-show prima donna, and Harrison talks his way through his numbers with enormous charm.

New York Daily News published this on March 16, 1956. New York Daily News

New York Daily News published this on March 16, 1956.

Enlarge Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady," the hit Broadway musical based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion." AP

Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” the hit Broadway musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.”

Enlarge

It’s a big company in “My Fair Lady,” and there must be special mention of Stanley Holloway as Eliza’s father, the dustman, and Robert Coote as Col. Pickering, the solid Briton who finances Prof. Harrison’s experiment in elevating a street waif. Holloway is wonderfully droll in his two numbers, “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” There is another excellent piece of singing and acting by John Michael King, Dennis King’s son, in the role of Freddy, the typical English silly boy. And Cathleen Nesbit is perfect as Harrison’s aristocratic mother.

Splendid Production

Physically, “My Fair Lady” is splendid and splendorous, with scene designer Oliver Smith and costumer Cecil Beaton collaborating on the quaintly rich atmosphere of the London of 1912. At proper moments, Hanya Holm introduces some light-hearted dances, and the visual high spot of the evening is a scene at the Ascot race track.

With all its extra musical trappings, “My Fair Lady” remains pure Shaw — and the man who has held it all together and made it into an uncommonly stylish production is the director, Moss Hart.

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