On this day in 1956, My Fair Lady premiered on Broadway. I have two things to say about this. The first is that when I was 17 years old, I was part of a concert band that toured Europe. It was interesting. But the band was filled with people from the south. There were only two people who were at all from the west coast: a guy from Alaska and a gal from Arizona. Now the guy turned out to be my best friend on the trip. He was the only one who was willing to crawl out of windows and go roaming around the great cities of Europe drinking wine. Really: most of those kids were real duds.
But London was where we had first arrived and I didn’t know him that well. But in London, they had set up for us to go to see one of two plays on the West End: Annie or My Fair Lady. Well, I certainly did not want to see Annie — perhaps the most vacuously American play ever. And although My Fair Lady was at least British, I had seen the movie many times and I generally wasn’t interested.
I was a theater nerd. I loved the theater and I knew what was going on around the world in the theater scene. My thing was theater of the absurd, but I stayed up on everything — I read the weekly Variety at the library. And I had always thought that if I made it to London, I would have to see, No Sex Please, We’re British. I tried to stage a revolt. But the only person I could get on my side was the gal from Arizona. So we went to see My Fair Lady. I think there were only maybe 4 of us who did; the rest of them went to see Annie. And people wonder why I think so lowly of the south! (For the record, the performance of My Fair Lady was exceptional.)
Pygmalion and My Fair Lady
My second thought about My Fair Lady is a joke from Woody Allen. In his routine “The Vodka Ad,” he goes through a list of people the company was trying to get before him. He said, “They wanted to get Noël Coward originally for it, but he was not available. He had acquired the rights to My Fair Lady and he was removing the music and lyrics and making it back into Pygmalion.” Now, Pygmalion is a George Bernard Shaw play from 1913. And My Fair Lady really is just Pygmalion with songs. Some of the scenes are almost word for word.
Anyway, here is the Woody Allen routine, which is stand-up comedy at its best.