The announced 2014 Broadway revival of My Fair Lady (co-produced by Clive Davis and the Nederlander organization, directed by Bartlett Sher, with Colin Firth and then Ralph Fiennes mentioned as its Henry Higgins) did not transpire, though it might well happen in 2015. (Clive Davis wrote a piece for The Hollywod Reporter, here, about his desire to revive the show. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/clive-davis-reveals-why-hes-696016)
Broadway be damn, damn, damn, damned, as Higgins might say. This past year was nevertheless the Year of Eliza Doolittle.
Here in Connecticut, the year began with a star-studded concert version of My Fair Lady staged (with golden-age radio-style sound effects and a large chorus made up of students) by the Yale Musical Theater of the Air at the Shubert in New Haven. Reg Rogers was Henry Higgins, Felicia Ricci was Eliza, Hans Tester was Colonel Pickering and the great David Alan Grier was Eliza’s father Alfred P. Doolittle. (All are graduates of either Yale University or the Yale School of Drama.)
At the end of 2014, the Shubert turned 100, and much was made of the fact that My Fair Lady had its world-premiere pre-Broadway try-out at the theater in 1956. It was an auspicious try-out, as star Rex Harrison nearly didn’t leave his dressing room on opening, he was so nervous about performing in his first musical.
In March of this year, The Playhouse on Park theater in West Hartford world premiered Connecticut-based playwright Lawrence Thielen’s Higgins in Harlem, which transposes Pygmalion the 1930s Harlem renaissance. Before the year was out, Higgins in Harlem had a second Connecticut production, at Southern Connecticut State University with a student cast directed by Sheila Hickey Garvey.
Broadway may not have gotten a My Fair Lady together for 2014, but there was a significant regional summer-theater revival of the show at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, directed by Joe Dowling with Jeff McCarthy as Higgins, Helen Anker as Eliza, Tony Sheldon as Pickering and Donald Corren as Alfred Doolittle. There was also the usual number of productions that this ever-popular musical tends to get. The Flat Rock Playhouse in North Carolina did it. Michigan’s Kalamazoo Civic Theater did it. Et cetera. As for the original non-musical Shaw play Pygmalion, Flat Earth Theatre in Watertown, Massachusetts did a reimagined, multi-racial production of the show where “overseen by a totalitarian police state, the people of London navigate the stations of the century-old Underground.” This Pygmalion played in August, and promised to “[contrast] cold Edwardian elitism with the vibrant and multicultural London of today, and [throw] Pygmalion’s themes of inequality into stark relief,” with “Liza and Higgins’ struggle between two far-apart worlds [bringing] new meaning to ‘mind the gap’.”
The sitcom Selfie, with Karen Gillan and John Cho as a modern-day Doolittle and Higgins (renamed Dooley and Higgs) who work in a big-city advertising agency, didn’t even last two months before being cancelled in November, but all 13 episodes are available to watch online at Watch ABC or Hulu.
David Sims did a thoughtful review of the show’s pilot episode for The Atlantic. The piece, found here, is titled “Selfie’s Challenge: The Inherent Creepiness of Pygmalion in 2014.” Sims felt that Selfie had “exciting potential” since it was clearly aware of the gender-stereotyping pitfalls of Shaw’s play and was addressing the lead character’s various culture, class and technology differences in intriguing ways. As it happened, the show quickly headed off on unexpected paths, with Henry Higgs getting a girlfriend and Eliza Dooley unable to contain her jealousy and curiosity (while continuing to remain in a sexual relationship with the show’s equivalent of My Fair Lady’s Freddy, named Freddy). By episode ten Higgs and Dooley have begun a tentative relationship themselves—a one-sided one, with Henry in denial. (Instead of singing “I Could Have Danced All Night,” the conflicted Eliza sings Sia’s “Chandelier” at a company karaoke party; Henry musters an a cappella rendition of Cat Steven’s “Wild World.” The final episode of Selfie will be released online on Dec. 30.
Then there’s Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, a mystery novel by Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta, who write under the joint pseudonym D.E. Ireland. The book was published in September by Minotaur Books. It’s set six months after the events in Pygmalion/My Fair Lady. Eliza is working as a linguistics specialist herself—not for Henry Higgins but for his former student and now rival speech-teacher called Maestro Emil Nepommuck. It’s Neopmmuck who’s the victim in the murder mystery, and Higgins (due to his characteristic hotheadedness) is a suspect:
“You leave me no choice, Professor Higgins. I am afraid that I must place you under arrest for the murder of Emil Nepommuck.
Eliza fell back a step, stunned. Higgins stopped laughing. For once in his life, the Professor was speechless.
She wished the same were true for Freddy. “One language teacher dead, the other arrested,” he blurted out in dismay. “Damnation, Eliza. Mother will never let us marry now!”
There are more Shakespeare than Shaw references in Wouldn’t It Be Deadly; Higgins quotes the bard regularly. There’s some talk of Oscar Wilde, and a cameo appearance by a young John Barrymore. But the book does end with Higgins calling Eliza “A fair lady indeed.” A sequel to Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, Move Your Blooming Corpse, will be published in September 2015.