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Viewpoint: American Classic

by F. Paul Driscoll.

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Sarah Gabriel, Margaret Tyzack and Alex Jennings in Carsen’s My Fair Lady at the Châtelet
© Marie-Noëlle Robert/Théâtre du Châtelet

NEXT MONTH,  Lyric Opera of Chicago presents the company premiere of My Fair Lady, the latest in Lyric’s series of great American musicals. Robert Carsen’s production of the Alan Jay Lerner–Frederick Loewe classic was first seen in Paris, at the Théâtre du Châtelet, in 2010 and arrives in Chicago with a distinguished cast, headed by Richard E. Grant. 

When My Fair Lady first opened on Broadway, in 1956, there was little if any “cross-pollination” between opera houses and commercial theaters—even though the Metropolitan Opera itself was in the heart of Manhattan’s theater district, at 1411 Broadway. In the years since then, several works born on Broadway have become opera-house regulars (or semi-regulars)—Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat, which has docked in San Francisco, Washington, Houston and Chicago in recent seasons; Porgy and Bess; The Most Happy Fella, Frank Loesser’s adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play They Knew What They Wanted; and Candide, the witty musical of Voltaire’s satirical novella by Leonard Bernstein, Lillian Hellman and John LaTouche.

When My Fair Lady was named “Outstanding Musical” at the eleventh annual Tony Awards, on April 21, 1957, The Most Happy Fella and Candide were among the shows that lost. If any musical of the 1950s deserved the status of “instant classic,” My Fair Lady did; its initial run on Broadway lasted more than six years, and the musical’s two original-cast albums (Broadway and London) and its Oscar-winning film version in 1964 kept My Fair Lady a top attraction for the better part of a decade. Candide, on the other hand,was a box-office disaster, racking up just seventy-three performances in its two-month Broadway run. Fortunately, Candide’s original cast album—a Columbia release, just like My Fair Lady—allowed Bernstein’s brilliant score to achieve its own classic status. spacer 

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