Friday, May 29, 2009

Play of the Week: My Fair Lady

This is the story of an "outcast" girl who is taken under the wing of a "popular" guy and made into a stunning lady with grace and charm. No, this isn't the teen flick She's All That, but the musical My Fair Lady.

Now we all know the story from the 1964 film with Sir Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. Most of you will know that the musical is based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. But do you know how heavily the musical draws from it source material?

If you read the two stage plays side by side, you will find that the majority of the dialogue from My Fair Lady is pulled directly from Pygmalion. Where it differs is the ending. Shaw's play ends with the scene at Higgins's mother's house where Eliza leaves Higgins and says that she will not be returning to his house on Wimple Street. In typical Shaw fashion, he explains plenty more through an epilogue that details the ensuing lives of Higgins, Eliza, and Freddy.

The musical deemed a non-romantic ending unsuitable; much like Shakespeare did in the ending of Measure for Measure forcing Isabella to marry the Duke. So instead Higgins has a change of heart in the lovely ballad I've Grown Accustom to Her Face. He returns home to find Eliza there and while the ending is ambiguous as to what happens next, we're all pretty sure that she's back to stay.

The ending never sat well for me. The whole play has been heading toward another conclusion. We have watched Eliza grown more and more confident in herself as she really finds out who she is. Higgins unlocks her ability to articulate her thoughts, but her thoughts are her own and far exceed his arrogant and narrow mind. They are not a good match and to have everything turn on a dime over the matter of one song - where she isn't even on-stage - is unsatisfying.

This week's challenge: take some time to reexamine the endings of both My Fair Lady and Pygmalion (including Shaw's epilogue) and share with us here which ending you think is for satisfying.

The musical also features one of my favorite lyrics of all time:
Would I leave home and never tell me where I'm going?

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