Top Ten Musicals of the 20th Century (III)

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a great musical!

My Fair Lady (1956)

My-Fair-LadyEight things you may (or may not) know about My Fair Lady.

  • Mrs Patrick Campbell, for whom Shaw wrote “Pygmalion”, changed the ending – where Higgins imperiously tells Eliza to buy him some Stilton cheese and a pair of gloves and Eliza simply walks out – to one where she returns and asks him “What size?”
  • The story was offered to Rodgers and Hammerstein who spent a year on it before giving up. Lerner and Loewe were next in line.
  • After a year Lerner and Loewe abandoned turning “Pygmalion” into a musical and it was offered to several other composers and lyricists. Lerner and Lowe later changed their mind(s) and wrote much of it before even acquiring the rights.
  • When the Broadway star Mary Martin heard that Learner and Loewe were writing the musical, she volunteered to be Eliza.
  • Four songs dropped from the musical were “Please Don’t Marry Me”, “Lady Liza”, “Come To the Ball” and “Say A Prayer For Me Tonight” (later sung in the film of Gigi but not in the show).
  • To get the atmosphere right, Lerner and Loewe went to Covent Garden at four o’clock one winter’s morning, and stayed for three hours listening to Cockney rhyming slang.
  • My Fair Lady might have been called: Liza, Lady Liza, Fanfaroon, or Come To The Ball.
  • “The Rain In Spain” took fifteen minutes to write.

The Most Happy Fella (1956)

Most-Happy-FellaAfter a career as one of Hollywood’s top song writers, Frank Loesser wrote his first full-length Broadway score for the 1948 Ray Bolger hit Where’s Charley? His next was Guys and Dolls (1950), a show which could also figure among this Top Ten. For his third Broadway show, The Most Happy Fella, Loesser wrote the work’s book in addition to the music and lyrics.

The story comes from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “They Knew What They Wanted”, by Sidney Howard. It ran for a year on Broadway in 1924 and had been filmed three times (the best known in 1940 starred Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard). Loesser made the characters more sympathetic and well-motivated, adding the character of Marie, Tony’s sister. He dropped the trade union and religious debates in the original.

Stubby Kaye and Tito Gobbi were considered for the leading role of Tony Esposito, a part that eventually went to Metropolitan Opera baritone Robert Weede. The role of Rosabella went to Jo Sullivan, who had played Julie Jordan in Carousel on Broadway. As an in-joke, Loesser included the surnames of four cast members and the full name of the show’s music director in the postman’s lyric that begins Act I scene 2.

Loesser mostly abandoned dialogue and used accompanied recitative between numbers. There are a number of operatic Leitmotifs, first heard in the prelude and recurring throughout the score, but Loesser is not afraid to mix in Tin Pan Ally (“Standing On The Corner”) and musical comedy material (“Big D”). Loesser himself said of the show, “It’s not a play with music; it’s not an opera… It’s a musical – with a lot of music!”



One comment on “Top Ten Musicals of the 20th Century (III)

  1. Virginia says:

    My Fair Lady was one of my parents’ favorite musicals – they watched the movie version every year on their anniversary. We use phrases from the movie all the time, especially on Sundays when we must ‘make it to the church on time!’ Thanks for sharing these background tidbits that make it more special!!

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