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Original Casts 1956 & 1958
Retrospective RTR 4181

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My Fair Lady
1. Overture
2. Why Can't the English?
3. Wouldn't It Be Loverly?
4. With a Little Bit of Luck
5. I'm an Ordinary Man
6. The Rain in Spain
7. I Could Have Danced All Night
8. Ascot Gavotte
9. On the Street Where You Live
10. You Did It
11. Show Me
12. Get Me to the Church on Time
13. A Hymn to Him
14. Without You
15. I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face
16. Finale
Henry Higgins - Rex Harrison
Eliza Doolittle - Julie Andrews
Alfred P. Doolittle - Stanley Holloway
Colonel Pickering - Robert Coote
Freddy Eynsford-Hill - John Michael King
Mrs Pearce - Philippa Bevans
Harry - Gordon Dilworth
Jamie - Rod McLellan
Cockneys - Reid Sheldon, Glenn Kezer, James Morris, Herb Surface
Orchestra and Chorus of the Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York, conducted by Franz Aller
17. Overture
18. Thank Heaven for Little Girls
19. It's a Bore
20. I Don't Understand The Parisians
21. The Night They Invented Champagne
22. I Remember It Well
23. Gigi (Gaston s Soliloquy)
24. I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore
25. Say A Prayer For Me Tonight
26. Finale - Thank Heaven for Little Girls (Reprise)
Honoré Lachaille - Maurice Chevalier
Gigi - Leslie Caron (sung by Betty Wand)
Gaston Lachaille - Louis Jourdan
Madame Alvarez - Hermione Gingold
Aunt Alicia - Isabel Jeans
The MGM Chorus and Orchestra conducted by André Previn
Reviewing this album under "Nostalgia" seems appropriate for me, because hearing My Fair Lady reminds me of seeing the show at Drury Lane in London at a time when it was literally the talk of the town. I even remember some of my friends having already boasted that they had got hold of a copy of the American cast recording and it was one of the best musicals they had ever heard.
Of course, they were right. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe had taken Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion and turned it into a magical musical. It seemed to have no flaws, unless you took exception to its changing Shaw's ending to a more suitably sentimental climax for Broadway, where it premiered in 1956. It had the perfect cast, led by the lordly Rex Harrison, the young Julie Andrews, and the comic actor Stanley Holloway (the 1958 English production benefitted from having the same principals). The lyrics and script perfectly portrayed their characters. The plot was an intriguing one, mingling a love story with a delectable rags-to-riches tale. Nearly every song was tuneful, catchy and ingenious. One of the many examples of adroit wordplay is the rhyming of "ruder pest" with "Budapest" in You Did It (sung slightly out-of-tune by Robert Coote).
Rex Harrison's sprechgesang memorably suited his patrician role (although it is a fair to say that he actually sang some lines sweetly); Julie Andrews was just right for the innocent but fiesty role of Eliza Doolittle; and Stanley Holloway had long ago established himself as the archetypal Cockney with his film roles and his monologues like "The Lion and Albert". Although the plot differed from Bernard Shaw's original, a song like Why Can't the English? echoes Shaw's Preface uncannily. With a Little Bit of Luck and Get Me to the Church on Time capture the carefree spirit of an Eastender succumbing to marriage. Other songs from the show - like the Street Where You Live - have become standards used by vocalists and jazz musicians. Altogether, it is virtually a faultless musical: certainly the apex of Lerner & Loewe's achievements.
The same might be said to a lesser degree about Gigi, which has a remarkable economy in the cast, using only a handful of main characters. The plot, taken from a 1944 novel by Colette, is also simple - possibly rather too simple for a two-hour musical. The 1958 film followed My Fair Lady closely. Indeed, it was advertised as "The first Lerner-Loewe musical since 'My Fair Lady'." Perhaps it came at the right time, as it is hard to imagine a show about the training of a courtesan being quite so popular nowadays when we are more aware of such tendencies as paedophilia and the exploitation of women.
Yet it is still possible to see the show as a piece of Gallic superficiality, played out within the conventions of fin-de-siècle Paris. Several critics referred to its resemblance to My Fair Lady and it certainly has similarities with that other story of a young girl being trained for an unusual role. Maurice Chevalier plays the typical roué with a twinkle in his eye as he sings ironical songs like I'm Glad I'm Not Young Any More and Thank Heaven for Little Girls and transports us to a different time and place with different customs. Hermione Gingold adds to the make-believe atmosphere with her indubitably eccentric character.
Leslie Caron looks good in the title-role but her singing voice was not adequate for the job, so Betty Wand dubbed most of her vocals. Something similar happened when (instead of Julie Andrews) Audrey Hepburn was cast as Eliza in the 1964 film version of My Fair Lady, even though her voice had to be dubbed by Marni Nixon.
This collation of two musicals on one CD lasting nearly 80 minutes is very generous, although it omits some of the songs, especially She is Not Thinking of Me and the Waltz from Maxim's from Gigi, which may make the buyer feel slightly cheated. But this is well-recorded and good value, particularly if you can find it at budget price.
Tony Augarde

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