Loverly: The Life and Times of My Fair Lady (Broadway Legacies) Hardcover – 19 Jul 2012
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There has been a welcome growth in the study of famous Broadway musicals and Dominic McHugh's Loverly is an important and absorbing addition to the literature. It is rooted in an impressively detailed consideration of the sources but wears its scholarship lightly and engagingly ... This beautifully written and scrupulously researched book deserves the warmest possible recommendation and it's essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in Broadway musicals. (Nigel Simeone, International Record Review)
About the Author
Dominic McHugh is Lecturer in Music at The University of Sheffield
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Unusually, the author tackles the songs that were cut from the production just as extensively as the classic hits from the show that we know today. He digs deeply into the varied letters of correspondance from the collaborators, and reveals a truer version of the creative decisions and birthpangs than lyricist/bookwriter Alan Lerner had imparted in his official accounts.
There are studies of G.B. Shaw's PYGMALION, noting its comparative differences with MY FAIR LADY, the ambiguity of the romantic elements of MY FAIR LADY, and the conflicting memories of the performers in the original production. McHugh also delves into the various revivals and revisionist productions since 1956, and notes the changing concepts that still makes this astounding musical the classic that it is. The one reservation I might have is the lack of photographs from the various productions of MY FAIR LADY, as the b&w ones presented are scant, and are only from the original production.
This is a wonderfully readable publication (musical notation is kept to a minimum), and having read just about all of the other books relating to the musical masterwork (including the great Keith Garebian book) I can easily say that this is just as rewarding.
Making of My Fair Lady
McHugh adds to this treasure trove of material a deft and enlightening analysis of many of the critical aspects of the show: the music, the lyrics in their various stages, the personnel interactions and issues, the overall achievements of the musical. More than any other source I have examined, McHugh has helped to bring Fritz Loewe out of the shadows--where it was too easy to view him as a passive collaborator--and identify him as a fully involved musical genius. Perhaps most impressive of McHugh's contributions here, however, is the manner in which he so carefully and persuasively demonstrates the originality and creativity of "Fair Lady', taking it beyond the standard critique as a mere "expansion" of "Pygmalion" and viewing it as the extraordinarily original and creative work of musical theatre that it is. He has also provided a necessary corrective to Lerner's highly...er..."inventive" recollections of his own life and career! It has always fascinated me that he was so sublime on the micro level of writing the most intricate and thoughtful and moving of lyrics, yet at the same time so undisciplined at the macro level, especially in his personal life, but also, I think, in some of his work.
Anyone with an interest in the musical theatre--most especially the musical theatre at its zenith, with "My Fair Lady" as its greatest example of achievement--should find this book informative, fascinating, and endlessly revealing. It is also an outstanding look at the creative squabbles, struggles, compromises, revisions, and ultimate genius of the men and women who worked together to produce this masterpiece of the theatre. I recommend this book with great enthusiasm. And as for McHugh: "He did it!"
Shaw fought off any attempts to make a musical of his play _Pygmalion_, which in turn was based on the myth from Ovid. It was only his death in 1950 that allowed his estate to make such decisions. Many had seen the musical potential of the play, but turning it into a musical proved too difficult for Rodgers and Hammerstein, who gave up on the task. The lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and the composer Frederick Loewe also gave up on in it 1952, but went back two years later. It was difficult to get a cast together all at one time, and even when rehearsals were underway, there was still a great deal of editing to do. McHugh has meticulously examined whatever remains of the cast-off portions, though, and finds more to the cuts than just standard editing. Lowe, after huge amounts of work, was fearless in cutting out chunks of that work (or recycling it to other later musicals). In an effort that would defy the commonsense idea of what a musical was about, the overtly romantic songs and lyrics were snipped or toned down. For all their circling of each other in the musical, by turns provoked or entranced, Higgins and Eliza do not fall in love. "Lerner and Lowe," writes McHugh, "resolve the characters' ongoing battle without defining their relationship any more explicitly than it has been earlier in the show." The famous last line, "Eliza? Where the devil are my slippers?" confirms that Eliza and Higgins have cemented a prickly friendship, and the audiences go out happy with the idea that the friendship will continue. In a traditional musical, nothing but love and marriage would have resulted, but here is instead "the perfect ambiguous conclusion: the `serenely independent' Higgins cannot love Eliza but is happy to admit that he has grown accustomed to her face."
McHugh goes heavily on the musicology, and these sections of the book will baffle most readers. (It certainly does not take being a musicologist to enjoy the show or the book; it was seldom when reading these pages that the music was not playing in my head.) There is also scads of folklore about the musical and its first production that McHugh does not include; this is not a light anecdotal read. _My Fair Lady_, however, merits the careful attention, and will make any fan of the musical happy for new reasons to love it.
All that said, Mr. McHugh does illuminate the key, but subtle, decisions that elevated "My Fair Lady" from being good enough to hard to beat. And he sprinkles the book with enough surprising anecdotes to keep you reading right to the end.