My Fair Lady (1964) starring Audrey Hepburn & Rex Harrison

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Flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) dreams of a better life.

[1] From first frame to last, the film is slick, graceful, gorgeous to behold, with costumes and sets richly evoking the Edwardian era…

[2] The acting from Rex Harrison deserves high praise, it is effortless and believable. The same can be said for Audrey Hepburn… 

…despite his success, the experience of tutoring Eliza has humbled him. The end of the film where they show respect and care for each other was a masterstroke as no romance was needed.

[3] What Higgins is, in reality, is a misanthrope. A misanthrope basically dislikes and distrusts everyone! Watch the film and you’ll notice that Higgins treats everyone with the same disregard…

[4] The songs are extraordinary in their ability to enrich our knowledge of the characters… Eliza’s father, who calls himself one of “the undeserving poor” is one of Shaw’s best comedy creations… 

[5] It’s a momentous film but it has its subtle points: watch the way in which Eliza’s eyes are centered on Higgins when she enters at the ball, and the way in which the two of them stare at each other for a few seconds at the top of the stairs a few moments later.

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews 

This is a musical that I’ve seen MANY times (usually w/ my family as a kid); I esp. like the songs and costumes. This is one of my mom’s fave films; she’s a big Audrey Hepburn fan. The play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw was inspired by a Greek myth by Ovid. Pygmalion was a sculptor from Cyprus who carved a woman out of ivory. This statue was so beautiful and realistic, he fell in love with it. When Aphrodite’s festival day came, Pygmalion made offerings at the altar of the goddess of love, and wished for a bride who would look like his statue. When he returned home, Pygmalion kissed the statue, and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again, and found that it was transformed into a real woman. Aphrodite had granted Pygmalion’s wish. He married the woman (named Galatea) w/ Aphrodite’s blessing. 

You see this creature with her curbstone English? The English that will keep her in the gutter till the end of her days? Well, sir, in six months, I could pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy Ball. I could even get her a job as a lady’s maid or a shop assistant, which requires better English. -Professor Henry Higgins declares to Colonel Pickering 

Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) is no marble Galatea lacking agency; she is a single working-class woman in early 1900s London who has a job (selling flowers), rents her own room, and lives a morally upright life (she insists: “I’m a good girl, I am!”) She dreams of having comfort and love, as we hear in the song Wouldn’t it Be Loverly?  Some lyrics below:

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Someone’s head restin’ on my knee
Warm and tender as he can be
Who takes good care of me
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Even in this early scene, it is Eliza’s will that drives the plot; Higgins might have tinkered forever with his phonetic alphabet and his recording devices if Eliza hadn’t insisted on action… It is her ambition, not Henry’s, that sets the plot in motion…

Eliza’s escape from the “lower classes,” engineered by Higgins, is a revolutionary act… It is a lesson that resonates for all societies, and the genius of “My Fair Lady” is that it is both a great entertainment and a great polemic. It was actually about something. 

-Roger Ebert

After meeting Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), Eliza wants lessons to get rid of her (Cockney) accent. She wants a better job working in a florist’s shop. Eliza even offers to pay, BUT the elderly/kind Col. Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) insists on providing the funds (even getting her new clothes). Higgins only thinks of Eliza as a challenging project, NOT an individual w/ feelings and dreams.

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Eliza enters high society by attending a horse race with Higgins.

Over 6 months, Eliza works w/ Higgins (and Pickering, serving as a cheerleader) to improve her pronunciation, vocabulary, and manners. At the races, she looks gorgeous in her fitted white and black gown, and catches the eye of Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett). Eliza makes polite small talk w/ some society people, BUT then launches into a funny/inappropriate story from her old life. We see that though Eliza can pronounce the words, she hasn’t yet learned which words to choose to speak in high society. However, the young/handsome Freddy gets a huge crush on Eliza, as we hear in On the Street Where You Live:

Does enchantment pour
Out of every door?
No, it’s just on the street where you live
And oh, the towering feeling
Just to know somehow you are near
The overpowering feeling
That any second you may suddenly appear

Higgins (who Eliza gets to know by living in his house) doesn’t praise the hard work Eliza has done or see how naturally pretty she was (underneath the soot and rags). On the other hand, Freddy (a mere acquaintance) is VERY happy to bring her flowers and get a glimpse of her face. It makes more sense that Eliza would end up w/ Freddy, NOT Higgins. 

At the ball, Eliza is stunning (hair, jewels, gown, her dancing, etc.)- even fooling Zoltan Karpathy, the blackmailing language expert (and former student of Higgins). However, she is dismayed/saddened when Higgins gets ALL the credit (You Did It). Eliza becomes sophisticated, transcending the parameters of the professor’s test of social engineering. She resents this, so she throws slippers at Higgins. Eliza sees that he has his own social and emotional limitations. 

Higgins seems unaware of the place of women; in his mind, Eliza’s worries are over. Eliza asks him what she is to do with herself, now that she has become a lady. He says that she could marry.  Eliza’s answer shows that lower-class women MAY have a stronger sense of morality than most “ladies.” She never before thought of selling herself into marriage.

I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me, I’m not fit to sell anything else. -Eliza explains to Higgins 

Eliza goes off to Mrs. Higgins’ house for advice. Sure, we know Freddy wants to marry her, but she’s NOT sure that’s the right step. (Notice how she tosses, then later retrieves, the ring that Higgins gave her?) The relationship between Mrs. Higgins (Gladys Cooper) and her son is humorous b/c the mother’s attitude toward her son is eccentric; she expresses herself w/ as much honesty as her son. Mrs. Higgins is filled with tolerance, intelligence, and imagination. Like Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, she was VERY concerned over the fate of Eliza from early on in the story.

Eliza’s hard work resulted in her developing an intense devotion and loyalty towards Higgins (and also Pickering). Maybe she’s NOT feeling a romantic kind love, BUT a strong desire to please? When the film ends, the audience is left to ponder what will happen to the characters later.  Now, for my younger sister, it was a foregone conclusion that Higgins and Eliza would marry. I was NOT 100% sure though; it’s an ambiguous ending. 

When Eliza emancipates herself – when Galatea comes to life – she must not relapse. She must retain her pride and triumph to the end. When Higgins takes your arm on ‘consort battleship’ you must instantly throw him off with implacable pride; and this is the note until the final ‘Buy them yourself.’ He will go out on the balcony to watch your departure; come back triumphantly into the room; exclaim ‘Galatea!’ (meaning that the statue has come to life at last); and – curtain. Thus he gets the last word; and you get it too. -George Bernard Shaw in a 1920 letter to actress playing Eliza (Mrs. Patrick Campbell) 

Shaw asserted that such a wedding is absolutely impossible. He subtitled his play a “romance” b/c the technical meaning of “romance” refers to anything that was highly improbable (EX: the transformation of a flower girl into a duchess in six months). A romance can also suggest a “happy ending,” and Shaw is not interested in that. He wouldn’t allow his creation, Eliza, to marry such a misfit as Higgins simply to satisfy the whims of the sentimentalists of the world, even though these people outnumber the realists. But we know Broadway, then later Hollywood, had other ideas! 

 

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Macbeth (Shakespeare Theatre Company: APR 25-MAY 28)

When I work on a play, I think about where I’m doing it and figure out what the pulse of that city is. In this case, it’s D.C., it’s politics—and it’s also structural politics. They’d understand this idea I’d have. So I identify the place and then I figure out how to get the play into the laps of the audience, so it’s not an intellectual thing that they can just sit back and let wash over them—it feels visceral. It feels like it’s a play for them.

-Liesl Tommy, Director

Director Liesl Tommy grew up in segregated Cape Town, South Africa, before immigrating to Boston at age 15 w/ her family. She has located her Macbeth in some unnamed, majority-Muslim (note the hijabs) country in North Africa. This is a land troubled by civil war in the modern-day. The three “witches” are mysterious foreign operatives, lead by Hecate (who has a Russian accent a la Putin). 

If you’re familiar w/ the play, you’ll quickly notice that several of the originally male characters have become female: Duncan, Donalbain, Ross, Young Lennox, one of the (here only a teen) assassins, Macduff’s child, and the Doctor. This production is also influenced by House of Cards; you’ll note how Macbeth’s monologues/asides are done. (In 2013, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright explained that they modeled their Frank and Claire Underwood roles after the ultimate power couple, Macbeth and Lady M.)

I think this production will appeal more to those who are NOT so familiar w/ (or invested in) Shakespeare. As you may know, I’m NOT one of those folks (LOL)! In my opinion, there are some effective scenes, BUT as a whole, there is a LOT missing. Sometimes the energy gets low, such as the extended dance number and coronation scene. It could’ve been much shorter (as was noted in Washington City Paper). 

Above all, Macbeth offers a glimpse of the tragic themes that seemed to obsess Shakespeare—the corrupting currents of power and ambition, the inevitability of time, the toxic intimacy of husbands and wives, blood that will have blood. All of these themes can be said to equivocate, extending the play’s resonance beyond its specific context and Shakespeare’s life and times to shed insight on our own. 

-Drew Lichtenberg, Literary Manager

In the lead role, Jesse J. Perez is comfortable w/ The Bard’s language, BUT there is something missing in the way he expresses the words. 

Though he may be committed and driven, Jesse J. Perez embodies Macbeth with volume and gesture, but little else. If he is to stir and unsettle, Macbeth must convincingly reveal his inner battles — between right and wrong, between strength and weakness, between ambition and cowardice. It is found in the subtleties of the language, its music, and the expressive spaces in between. Perez misses these opportunities, choosing instead a broad and agitated brush. 

-Kate Wingfield (Metro Weekly)

Nikkole Salter does a  fine job as Lady Macbeth; the audience seemed to like her performance. Her Lady M is an alpha female, for sure! The way she interacts w/ her husband make their marriage seem like one of convenience, NOT passion (as I’ve usually seen portrayed onstage and film). Salter has command of the language, which contributes to an exciting presence. 

As one watches the appealing earnestness and latent dark energies (seen to great effect when he turns into a ghost) of McKinley Belcher III’s Banquo, the friend so cruelly betrayed by Macbeth, it’s hard not to wonder what he might have done with the title role. 

-Kate Wingfield (Metro Weekly)

It took me a few minutes, BUT I recognized Belcher from PBS’ Mercy Street. Now that may NOT be the most interesting show, BUT his character is a pretty interesting/conflicted man. As for Corey Allen, his Malcolm is VERY effective. This is a leading man in the making, no doubt! 

It’s an interesting take on Macbeth the story, but it has a crippling effect on Macbeth the character. Tommy has replaced the godhead (or, at least, the Meddlesome Fortunetellers) with Uncle Sam, but Shakespeare wasn’t interested in puppets. 

By amputating the supernatural elements, STC has grounded Macbeth on the human plane, which was its intention. Attempts to make the man “resonate” with 2017 theatergoers, however, rob him of his twisted, fatalistic nobility. This is the worst character Shakespeare still liked, not some banana republic placeholder.

Brightest Young Things

Indian-American actress Anu Yadav (who I saw last year in The Who and The What at Round House Theatre) is part of the company; she plays an assassin and maidservant to Lady Macbeth. Later on, I saw in the playbill that Lady Macduff was also played by a South Asian actress- Nilanjana Bose.

Myra Lucretia Taylor (who was interviewed recently on WETA) provides some (much needed) humor as the Porter. In another small role, the Doctor, she brings gravitas. Taylor is obviously comfortable w/ Shakespeare’s language! 

Kiss Me Kate (1953)

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Lilli (Kathryn Grayson) and Fred (Howard Keel) talk about their past marriage and work in her dressing room.

[1] This is my favorite musical, not for the dancing alone, but it is the best. The dancers, not just Ann Miller and Rall, but Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, and Carol Haney!! What more could any dance fan want? There is always something new to see, no matter how many times you have watched it. The lyrics are magnificent, tricky and intriguing. I will admit that the music is great, but folks, catch the dancing!

[2] Keel, with his big big voice and untrained natural talent, fills the screen (and his tights!) with his masculine presence. He struts, swaggers, and yet shows his vulnerable side believably enough to make us *like* his character, ego or no ego. Grayson… really comes into her own here–she’s excellent as Lilli, swooning at the right moments, strident during the rest, and actually bites out ‘I Hate Men’ with conviction…  I’m also partial to Tommy Rall, whose soaring athletic ability just crackles off the screen. It’s such a thrill to see Miller get matched with someone who can dance circles around most everyone else alongside her. They make the cutest couple in their two numbers together, with the energetic, exuberant dance to ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’ definitely making one of my favourite film dance routines of all time.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

I became a fan of this musical after seeing a version of it on Great Performances (PBS) several years ago; it stars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, two VERY well-respected Broadway veterans. I bought the soundtrack (released in 2006). Seriously, WHO can resist Stokes’ voice!? 

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Marin Mazzie (Lilli/Katharine) and Brian Stokes Mitchell (Fred/Petruchio)

I saw this movie on TCM two weeks ago; it was pretty fun, though NOT as fabulous as the Broadway version. Fred Graham (Howard Keel) and Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) are a divorced pair of actors who are brought together by Cole Porter, who has written a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Lilli, recently engaged to a Texas oilman, is reluctant to act w/ Fred, who is involved w/ Lois Lane (Ann Miller). It’s obvious that the tap dancing ingenue (Lois) and more mature leading lady (Lilli) resent each other. 

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Katharine (Kathryn Grayson) and Petruchio (Howard Keel) fighting during the play.

We soon seen that Fred and Lilli act a LOT like the mismatched lovers they play, Petruchio and Katharine. A fight between them on opening night threatens the production. Also, two thugs w/ thick New York accents (who are BIG fans of the theater) think that Fred owes their boss a LOT of money, so insist on staying next to him ALL night. Lois (who is cast as Bianca) is in love w/ another of her co-stars, Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall), who forged that IOU. 

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Three suitors woo Bianca (Ann Miller) during the Tom, Dick, or Harry number.
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Bianca/Lois (Ann Miller) and Bill (Tommy Rall) talk in the theater’s alley.

…Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, who get into the play and later get to sing one of Cole Porter’s best satirical numbers and a personal favorite of mine, ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare.’ It’s their own ode to their theatrical experience and also advice to the lovelorn that if you want to win the mate of your choice, learn the classics so you can wow them with rhetoric. Wynn and Whitmore are priceless.

Excerpt from IMDB review

If you’re a big fan of The Bard, you will definitely enjoy the thugs’ song (Brush Up Your Shakespeare); it’s a combo of high culture and naughty wordplay.

I esp. like Lois’ signature song Always True To You (In My Fashion). Here is the (updated) song from the 2006 Broadway play, sung by Amy Spanger.