Loverly: The Life and Times of My Fair Lady

Loverly: The Life and Times of My Fair Lady

Loverly: The Life and Times of My Fair Lady

Loverly: The Life and Times of My Fair Lady


Few musicals have had the impact of Lerner and Loewe's timeless classic My Fair Lady. Sitting in the middle of an era dominated by such seminal figures as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Frank Loesser, and Leonard Bernstein,My Fair Ladynot only enjoyed critical success similar to that of its rivals but also had by far the longest run of a Broadway musical up to that time. From 1956 to 1962, its original production played without a break for 2,717 performances, and the show went on to be adapted into one of the most successful movie musicals of all time in 1964, when it won eight Academy Awards. Internationally, the show also broke records in London, and the original production toured to Russia at the height of the Cold War in an attempt to build goodwill. It remains a staple of the musical theater canon today, an oft-staged show in national, regional, and high school theaters across the country.

Using previously-unpublished documents, author Dominic McHugh presents a completely new, behind-the-scenes look at the five-year creation of the show, revealing the tensions and complex relationships that went into its making. McHugh charts the show from the aftermath of the premiere of Shaw's Pygmalion and the playwright's persistent refusal to allow it to be made into a musical, through to the quarrel that led lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe to part ways halfway through writing the show, up to opening night and through to the present. This book is the first to shed light on the many behind-the-scenes creative discussions that took place from casting decisions all the way through the final months of frantic preparation leading to the premiere in March 1956. McHugh also traces sketches for the show, looking particularly at the lines cut during the rehearsal and tryout periods, to demonstrate how Lerner evolved the relationship between Higgins and Eliza in such a way as to maintain the delicate balance of ambiguity that characterizes their association in the published script. He looks too at the movie version, and how the cast album and subsequent revivals have influenced the way in which the show has been received. Overall, this book explores why My Fair Lady continues to resonate with audiences worldwide more than fifty years after its premiere.


When I received the proposal that would evolve into the book you are about to read, I immediately recalled Mozart’s apocryphal but no less prescient remark after meeting with the seventeen-year-old Beethoven: “Keep your eyes on him—someday he will give the world something to talk about.” The analogy may be imperfect, but Mozart’s prophecy remains fundamentally apt to describe the thoroughly accomplished young author of Loverly: The Life and Times of “My Fair Lady,” Dominic McHugh, of the University of Sheffield. Indeed, McHugh has produced the first comprehensive and most accurate account of how this great and perennially popular show came to be, and Loverly will give us much to talk about, just as the revered subject of this book has for generations added immeasurable wealth to the American musical treasury.

In telling the story of how Alan Jay Lerner (1918–86) and Frederick Loewe (1901–88) created what one opening night critic described as “a new landmark in the genre fathered by Rodgers and Hammerstein,” McHugh, in contrast to most of his predecessors, turns to Lerner’s 1978 memoir, The Street Where I Live “only where no other source exists.” Although never less than engaging and indispensable, and although we have grown accustomed to accepting Lerner’s recollections at face value, McHugh’s approach is a welcome one. By looking more closely at Lerner’s street—without, however, drawing comparisons with his stage characters as I am doing here—McHugh’s reliance on his documentary exploration reveals that Lerner’s memory shares much in common with that of Honoré and Mamita in Gigi, who think they “remember it well” but clearly do not. Among many polite but firm refutations in the course of Loverly, McHugh carefully points out that contrary to Lerner’s claim in his memoir, Mary Martin did appear to be a “natural” for the role of Eliza. Lerner wrote at the time that “everyone else after Mary has to be second choice” and that despite Lerner’s assertion Rex Harrison was the first choice for Higgins, in fact Lerner and Loewe approached both Noël Coward and Michael Redgrave before turning to Harrison.

Instead of following Lerner at every turn as most previous writers have done, McHugh offers a meticulous exploration of voluminous contemporary sources, including letters, memos, lyric and libretto drafts, and scores both discarded and replaced. The saga begins with the Theatre Guild (entirely omitted in Lerner’s expansive narrative) and its attempt to find a talented . . .

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