My Fair Lady

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe

album cover

A Fairly Delightful Musical

Most original-cast albums of the 1950s were recorded in a single day. Producers tried to schedule the sessions as close to the opening of the musical as possible, thinking that the nuances of the work would be fresh in the performers' minds. That strategy sometimes back-fired: The frenzy of getting a show off the ground meant performers hadn't yet settled into the songs. And were often exhausted besides.

Amazingly, there's no fatigue in the zippy readings of this Lerner and Loewe masterpiece, which was recorded in one marathon fourteen-hour session on March 25, 1956. My Fair Lady is an update of George Bernard Shaw's update of the story of Pygmalion, the mythic Greek figure who falls in love with his sculpture. Both leads, Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, are beyond lively, and the supporting cast—which, as was often the case with Lerner and Loewe, got the meatiest songs—positively sparkles. Seek out "On the Street Where You Live," sung by John Michael king in the smallish role of Freddy Eynsford-Hill; his flip, understated rhapsody oozes charm, and avoids the stiltedness that often accompanies musical theater.

Set in pre–World War II London, My Fair Lady is a drawing-room tale of class distinctions animated by Loewe's relentlessly sunny melodies. The show yielded an astounding number of songs that became standards, including the luminous "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." Harrison, as Henry Higgins, enjoys every wink of his ironies: When he describes himself, in "I'm an Ordinary Man," his exaggerated demeanor suggests his character is anything but ordinary. That Harrison caught this specific dynamic so early in what became a historic extended run is remarkable. In a vivid illustration of how precarious these inflections can be, by the time of the 1959 London cast recording, he lost that gleam—he's no longer in on the joke—making the iridescent 1956 version the clear choice.

Genre: Musicals
Released: 1956, Columbia
Key Tracks: "I Could Have Danced All Night," "On the Street Where You Live"
Another Interpretation: Jeremy Irons, Kiri Te Kanawa, London Symphony Orchestra (John Mauceri, cond.)
Collector's Note: This 1956 original cast version includes interviews with the show's stars, taped at the conclusion of the recording session.
Next Stop: Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Sings Broadway
After That: Cole Porter: Kiss Me Kate, Original Broadway Cast
Book Page: 448

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#1 from Adam Herbst, New Jersey - 11/06/2008 3:36

Oozing charm from every pore
He oiled his way around the floor.

Nuff said.

#2 from Ponting - 07/04/2009 1:31

The music is beautiful but there are real lessons to be learned from Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. These include lessons about trying to better oneself, first impressions, perseverance, personal relations, romance and the different accents in any country.

#3 from Iklan Baris, United States - 08/06/2009 12:47

I love My Fair Lady and I recommend this to every romantic at heart. If you cant see the play or musical then you must read the book.

#4 from Alex, United States - 08/21/2009 5:16

My Fair Lady is one of the greatest musicals ever made and anyone trying to recreate it should give it justice.

#5 from Mark Taylor - 08/22/2009 2:03

In 1913, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw adapted the myth to modern-day England and used his play about a phonetics professor’s efforts to refine the speech and manner of a cockney flower girl for life among the gentry as a platform for social critique, demonstrating the artificiality of class distinctions in turn-of-the-century British society.  In 1956, songwriters Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musicalized Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” and when film producer Jack L. Warner saw the Broadway premiere of MY FAIR LADY, he immediately began making plans for the most lavish movie musical in the history of Warner Bros.

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