|Melissa Errico, Kevin Kline, and Adam Gopnik at David Rubenstein Atrium|
Last night we reached beyond our customary fach of opera and recitals of art song to learn something about America's own art form--the Broadway musical. Our host and lecturer was Adam Gopnik, celebrated reporter and critic at The New Yorker. The evening was devoted to My Fair Lady with guests André Bishop of Lincoln Center Theater, Shaw expert Dominic McHugh, and actors Melissa Errico and Kevin Kline.
The program is part of a series "The History of the World in 100 Performances", offered free at the David Rubenstein Atrium of Lincoln Center. What a gift to the public!
We learned a great deal about how a music-theater piece evolves. Unfortunately there is no one alive who could dissect the 19th c. works we love so dearly, but it gives us a tool to understand them in greater depth. Mr. Gopnik called this process "theatrical anthropology".
George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion opened in 1914 and was very relevant to its time, dealing with issues of democratization of the social class structure and the establishment of a more egalitarian society. The progressive playwright had no interest in pieties and platitudes.
Gabriel Pascal made a film of Pygmalion in 1938 and, after several failed attempts by famous Broadway duos to musicalize the play, Lerner and Loewe were wildly successful with the 1956 My Fair Lady. Although not their first choices, Rex Harrison and a teenaged Julie Andrews contributed a great deal to the show's success.
As Mr. Gopnik pointed out, the show's success was largely based on the fact that the theme of American culture versus British culture was very au courant.
The show opened in London in 1958 and was quite the hit there as well. Everyone was ready for a post-war fable of emancipation--cultural, political, sexual, and social class.
We were delighted to hear Melissa Errico sing some of the songs that were dropped from the show--"Come to the Ball", "Shy", and "There's a Thing Called Love". They were gorgeous songs, written as vehicles for Ms. Martin, who ultimately was not cast. We could understand why they were dropped; they struck us as generic and not able to advance the storyline.
Ms. Errico and Kevin Kline gave readings of scenes from Shaw's play so that we could understand the difference between the play and the Lerner and Loewe musical. We hope some classical theater company will mount a revival of the play in the near future since Shaw's dialogue struck us as provocative and pungent.
We were also treated to a panel discussion with Mr. McHugh and Mr. Bishop who contributed the idea that today's #MeToo culture has made the time ripe for the revival now taking place at Lincoln Center Theater. We wish the show a long run-- and we wish ourselves into a front row seat!
(c) meche kroop