When I was little, my parents recorded their Broadway cast recording records onto audiotapes, which they would play in the car during our many road trips. I don’t know what my parents were thinking, driving from Washington, DC to the Grand Canyon with three young kids, none older than second grade, but I suppose they figured that the Broadway cast recordings would make it tolerable for them and would help shut us up.
One of my favorites was “My Fair Lady.” For some reason, in Eliza’s song “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely,” the line “Lots of chocolate for me to eat” would throw my two younger brothers into hysterics, and they would constantly repeat that line over and over, imitating Eliza’s cockney accent. I’m not sure how this inside joke got started. I always figured that one time they heard the record skipping and playing that line over and over again. Not completely sure.
Anyway, my parents rented the movie for us, and I remember really enjoying it. I’m not sure why, considering I was about seven. Maybe I was just captivated by the Pygmalion story. Maybe I just enjoyed the music and didn’t listen too much to the lyrics. I couldn’t possibly have related to the songs in the way that adult audiences do. I didn’t really understand the ending, when (if I remember correctly) Eliza comes back to Henry Higgins’s house and just sort of stands there as the movie ends. “Do you they get married?” I asked my dad. “We’re not supposed to know for sure, but we assume that they do,“ I remember him saying.
Last Thursday, April 10, I went to see “My Fair Lady” at the Ahmanson Theater, in a touring production that originated on the West End, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Matthew Bourne. During the show, I realized that now, at 28, each song has a completely different meaning than it once did.
“I’m Getting Married in the Morning”
I always assumed that in this song, Eliza’s father was announcing that he was really super-excited to be finally getting married in the morning. Here’s this no-good shlub who’s celebrating because he finally found someone who could tolerate him. Why did he keep saying, “Get me to the church on time”? I figured that maybe he’s always late to things. Maybe he can’t afford an alarm clock.
Now, watching it onstage, I realized what this song is: it’s a bachelor party. He’s drinking. He’s going to strip clubs. He’s ambivalent about the whole marriage thing. He wants someone to get him to the church because he might pass out in the street or he might change his mind and not want to get married at all. Sounds simple, right? Though you can see why my seven-year-old self might not realize this.
“On the Street Where You Live”
This song always passed in one ear and out the other. I figured it was one of those generic love longs that these people always said in these musicals: I love you, I want to marry you, blah blah blah. But when I heard it onstage last Thursday, my ears perked up: yes, when I walk down the streets where my romantic interests live, I get that same fluttering in my stomach that this guy is describing. She’s right here, on this street, in that building. I might even run into her! Even a few years ago, I don’t think I would have understood this song: I can only relate to it now that I’m done with college, and living in the in the real world, where I date people who live on actual streets.
But, of course, once those romantic partners come and go, the street still has meaning, but the meaning is different. Now I walk those streets with dread, hoping I don’t run into the person (“And oh, that cowering feeling / that any second you may suddenly appear”) And what about in L.A., where no one walks down any streets, let alone streets where people live? Driving down streets creates similar feelings.
“You Did It”
Unlike the others, I remember understanding this song completely. It is, granted, a simple song, in which Higgins and Pickering congratulate each other for transforming Eliza from a flower girl into royalty. But, in addition, as a kid, I remember reacting strongly to the issue of justice vs. injustice (that was before the Princeton philosophy department unintentionally turned me into a moral relativist). “Les Miserables” used to be my favorite musical, and when I saw the recent Broadway revival it completely brought me back to those strong feelings of injustice I felt while watching it when I was younger — especially in the part where Jean Valjean steals something from the church, and gets caught, and the priest comes out and saves him by telling him he left the candlesticks inside.
While watching “You Did It” in the film, I remember being very sensitive to Eliza’s feelings, and I vividly remember Eliza pointing out to Higgins afterwards, “I won your bet.” Because I remember Eliza’s feelings so vividly, last Thursday the song came across as too blunt. I was very aware of Eliza slinking to the back of the room angrily. I wonder if the directors intended for the audience to be aware of her, or if they wanted us to just focus on the catchy melody and not notice her anger until the end. If we’re at all aware of Eliza, it’s a pretty uncomfortable song. This is a case in which my memory of my seven-year-old self’s emotions during a song helped me understand the song better as a 28-year-old watching it onstage.