My Fair Lady reveals all

For such an ionic show as Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady – a masterpiece and a perfect example of the theatrical art called THE MUSICAL – there is little more that can be said or revealed than already in print.  BUT a concert in the English northern city of Sheffield (famed otherwise for the British premier of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago and reinstating trams) is to reveal more.   In fact, they are to reveal much more in a concert of the songs and music written for the piece that either was abandoned before or after rehearsals and in try-out.

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The concert will take place on 19th May at Sheffield University with Dr Dominic McHugh and conductor Matthew Malone presenting.  Dominic wrote the successful critically admired book Wouldn’t it be Loverly telling the story of the birth of My Fair Lady.  And, not only that, last year he had published Alan Jay Lerner, a lyricist’s letters.  There can be few people in such a privileged and knowledgeable position with the access to all this material.

Let’s hope some recording company will step in and record it.  We cannot control that; but we can go back and look at the history of the audio recordings of the show.

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 My Fair Lady opened on 15 March 1956 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre and, in Broadway tradition; the cast was taken into the recording studio on the Sunday to record it.  The legendary record producer, Goddard Lieberson was in charge and it was recorded in glorious Mono (this was just before stereo was introduced – the first show recorded in Stereo was Bells Are Ringing, although it was originally only released in Mono). 

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By the time the show opened in 1958 in London, Stereo was becoming readily available.  As Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews and Stanley Holloway still head the cast it was a very viable proposition to go back into the studio and record it in Stereo.  It must also be remembered that the record company, Columbia had put up the money for the show and had all the recording rights. 

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The new recording was issued in a golden sleeve using Al Hirschfeld’s beautiful original art work – it was issued both here and the United States.  However, the original Mono recording has always stayed available both in LP form and CD as most consider it to be the best recording.

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There was another change in London.  Stanley Holloway’s billing increased greatly.  And he deserved it as he had been a West End star for many years.

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When My Fair Lady was revived on Broadway on 25 March 1976 at the St James Theatre with Ian Richardson, Christine Andreas and George Rose it was again recorded by Columbia and Goddard Lieberson was again the record producer.  The art work for that issue is, of course, that of Al Hirschfeld.

RSB       Illustrations are from items held in our Trust archives.  Copyright for the art-work remains with Al Hirschfield.