Filichia Features: The 21st Century MY FAIR LADY

Filichia Features: The 21st Century MY FAIR LADY

It was considered the perfect musical 62 years ago, and it's abso-bloomin-lutely still the perfect musical.

So you'll want to do My Fair Lady as perfectly as you can.

While watching Bartlett Sher's rave-receiving revival at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, I was especially impressed with one of his decisions - which led me to one of my own. Perhaps either or both will be of use to you.

In every one of the 12 productions I'd previously seen -- from Boston to Casper, Wyoming - in Act One, Scene Five, Eliza, after much trial-(and tribulation)-and error, finally comes out with "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" and not "The rine in Spine stiys minely in the pline."

Here, Sher has added some suspense. When the big moment comes, Lauren Ambrose doesn't say every word perfectly from the outset. We see her struggle: "The rrrrr …" and we watch her finally be able to slowly but surely switch gears from the wrong pronunciation to the right one for each of the five previously problematic words. Sher and Ambrose make us wonder if she's going to finally conquer it this time.

You may say "Um, how much suspense can there be?" Everybody's familiar with My Fair Lady and knows that Eliza's going to get it.

I'm not so sure of that. It's almost been a quarter-century since the last revival opened on Broadway. You'll argue that over the years VHS and DVDs of the Oscar-winning 1964 film have been readily available - but so have thousands upon thousands of other tapes and discs that viewers have watched instead.

There must be people in the world who are new to My Fair Lady - just as you and I once were - so share Sher's new take with them and keep them in suspense as long as you can.

Yes, people have been known to have immediate epiphanies, so if you go with the tried-and-true where Eliza correctly pronounces all nine words with just the slightest hesitation before the five land-mines, no one will complain. Nevertheless, for those who know My Fair Lady like the back, front and sides of their hand, Sher's innovation will be a refreshing change.

And speaking of changes, a potential one occurred to me in the very next scene. Eliza's victory over "The Rain in Spain" leads to her, Higgins and Pickering not only singing but doing an impromptu dance - after which all three head off to bed. "Bed?! Bed?! I couldn't go to bed!" Eliza exclaims in song, for she's much too happy that she's pleased the men and herself. Those two lines begin "I Could Have Danced All Night," in which Mrs. Pearce, Higgins' housekeeper, and two maids try to get her into her nightgown and into the sack.

Here's what I'd like to see - and see if you'd like to see it, too. Considering that Eliza is now singing in her "new" voice - without a trace of Cockney - the three attendants should react with at least some surprise. Let's see their delight that she's finally made it!

Speaking of dancing, if choreography or dancers aren't your theater's particular strong suit, My Fair Lady poses the fewest challenges of the greatest of Golden Age musicals. It's a rare smash-hit mid-20 th-century musical that asks so little dancing from its leading lady and leading man.

"Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" and "The Rain in Spain" involve more musical staging than genuine choreography. How funny that the song titled "Ascot Gavotte," doesn't involve any dancing at all. The whole point of the number is that the stiff-upper-lip upper-crusters who populate the "gavotte" don't dance at all but walk slowly to music.

"The Embassy Waltz," only involves a number of couples, so getting each man to one-two-three, one-two-three with a woman is substantially easier than "Learn this step, follow it with this one, and then follow that one with this one." Such demands are only made during Alfred P. Doolittle's "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time" -- the two genuine production numbers in the entire musical.

Nevertheless, My Fair Lady will certainly have your spirits dancing all night. If there was a time to get reacquainted with this "loverly" musical, it is now.

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You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . His book, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at