Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Fair Lady - the Play

George Bernard Shaw, the well known Irish playwright has the distinction of being the only Nobel-prize and Oscar winning person. "My Fair Lady" is a musical play based on his play "Pygmalion". It is said that Shaw wrote the play in 1912 and it was first staged in 1913, more than hundred years ago. It was a big hit and attracted wide approval. It became one of the all-time popular musical play in due course. Pygmalion is based in Greek mythology, about a sculptor who fell in love with his own carved statue. It refers to the phenomenon where higher expectations lead to higher performance. This higher expectation leading to higher performance is also known as Rosenthal effect, named after Professor of Psychology Robert Rosenthal who did extensive work on expectation-performance and non-verbal communication. It is believed that higher expectation of teachers leads to better performance of students.

When "My Fair Lady" was first staged by Broadway in 1956, Julie Andrews played the lead role of Eliza Doolittle with Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins. This performance gave her much acclaim and led to further success in stage plays as well as films like Mary Poppins (1964) and Sound of Music (1965). When the stage play was produced as a film in 1964, Audrey Hepburn played the role of Eliza Doolittle while Rex Harrison was retained to play the role of Professor Higgins. The film was an outstanding success and is enjoyed by musical film lovers even today. It pocketed eight oscars (academy awards) including best picture, best actor and best director. It still attracts huge audience when presented on stage in different parts of the world. Songs like "I could have danced all night", "On the street where you live" and "Wouldn't it be loverly" became hugely popular with the audience. NewYork Times review called it as the "perfect musical".

The story of "My Fair Lady" revolves around a Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle and Professor of English Phonetics Henry Higgins. "Cockney English" refers to the accent or dialect of English traditionally spoken by working class Londoners. Higgins laments as to why many people do not talk proper English. He is of firm conviction that only the language separates classes and not money or customs. He wagers with another Phonetics scholar Colonel Pickering that he can turn Elizabeth Doolittle into a lady in six months by teaching her to speak properly. Colonel Pickering challenges Higgins to do so and agrees to bear the expenses of her training. An intensive training in speaking, dresses and mannerisms follows and Eliza comes out successful at the Embassy Ball. Eliza tells Higgins that she became lady not because of the teachings but due to the way Colonel Pickering treated her as a lady. Eliza finds that she cannot return to her old life now and Higgins cannot live without her as he has developed attachment to her. The play ends with the indication of a possible reconciliation between them.

Village Theatre is an organization dedicated to performing arts and functions from Issaquah, Washington state, USA. It's Francis J Gaudette Theatre in Issaquah, about 20 miles from the city of Seattle, presents stage plays regularly. The 35 year old 500 seater auditorium provides facilities such as sound proof family rooms for watching play (so that parents with small children can see plays with them, but not disturbing other theatre lovers), dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms, shops and other amenities. The theatre has staged over 85 musicals and also provides kid stage that offers theatre classes to children and youth in the age group of 3 years to 20 years through its art enrichment pre-school. Village Theatre is a popular destination for theatre lovers in its surroundings.

We were privileged to visit the auditorium last fortnight and see a performance of "My Fair lady", staged by a group of about 30 local artistes. The performance of the artistes on the stage was of a high standard and well supported by the music, light and sound. The three hour play was performed without wasting a minute. The stage provided for moveable fixed sets with real staircases, balconies, furniture and other physical displays. Change between scenes was effortless and quick. The entire performing team worked as a well-oiled machine and brought the true pleasure of watching a musical like "My Fair Lady". It was also great to watch many youngsters and senior citizens alike visiting the theatre and encouraging stage plays.       


  1. Balasundaram AthreyaDecember 13, 2015 at 7:43 PM

    This is an exhilarating recap Professor .... So much of fact and experience stated in a lucid narrative. Enjoyed reading this ... In my younger days as an undergrad student (late seventies I think), I have watched the film My Fair Lady more than once. Indeed it is the perfect musical and the songs remain etched in my memory. My own favourite being "Why can't the English learn to speak" ... and of course the scene where Eliza walks out on Prof Higgins ... Some great lessons in humility, humanity and horsy humour .... Oh! for those days and for more of that ilk ....

  2. Thanks Keshava murthyji. I loved reading your narrative. My memory goes back to those good old days of MFL classic.

  3. You were the worthy professor to be chosen for delivering a lecture on 'World literature' sometime ago. Very good narration.Lakshminarayana K

  4. This narrative has been written in a breezy style. I simply enjoyed reading the same; thanks. P.Narasimhan Bangalore

  5. sir we are very lucky to have a professor like you...proficient knowledge in subject and make the class very productive along with humiliation and a very good narrator too....very nice description of the story sir...even though I didn't see the play I felt like watching the play

  6. Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle and Professor of English Phonetics Henry Higgins of My Fair lady I still cannot forget. You have written in a simple and precise way. Good one