Making a Musical

Audrey Zielenbach is the Artistic Assistant at Gulfshore Playhouse.

My Fair Lady, in many respects, is an underrated masterpiece. The two men responsible for this musical, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, are often overshadowed by their contemporaries and two of musical theatre’s most famous names: Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers. However, Lerner and Loewe were able to accomplish something that Rodgers and Hammerstein attempted but ultimately failed: adapting George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion into a musical.

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Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison, Alan Jay Lerner, and Frederick Loewe

The project was so difficult that Lerner and Loewe actually abandoned it for two whole years before agreeing to attempt it again and thank goodness they did. They managed to create a unique and standout musical, loaded with the brilliance and the commentary of Shaw’s original work with the added joy of musical numbers that are now some of theatre’s most recognizable tunes. The original Broadway production of My Fair Lady won 6 Tony awards and ran for 6 years which at that time was the longest running Broadway show ever.

The genius of My Fair Lady is not something I truly appreciated until re-reading the script last year in anticipation of putting on this production. I had seen the movie when I was quite young, then was in the chorus of a community theatre production when I was 14 and then never truly revisited until this past year when we decided to include it in our 16-17 season.

Although rehearsals didn’t begin until a couple of weeks ago, our process with My Fair Lady began last spring. We were told that a 10-person version of My Fair Lady had been produced in the early 2000s but there was no published record of how that production had operated. What you’ll see on the Gulfshore Playhouse stage is truly unique in that (unless by pure coincidence) this version of My Fair Lady has never been seen before. Our process involved creating a large spreadsheet that accounted for every character present and every line spoken and then figuring out how all of these characters could manifest with 10 actors on stage. Everything fell into place eventually and we managed to configure so that not a line, character, song, or dance number has been lost. It looked good on paper but there was still the challenge of how it would come together on stage. When we began to rope a talented design team into place and began to cast actors, it was like seeing words walk off the page and become reality. Our genius costume designer, Lauren Gaston, had the task of figuring out how one person would go from a lower-class cockney to maid to queen back to cockney with little time in between. Our wonderful set designer, David Arsenault, has designed a gloriously Edwardian set that transports us to each location we visit in London, enhanced by Jimmy Lawlor’s lighting design and Jack O’Brien’s sound design. We are so excited to work with these consummate professionals who were willing to jump down the rabbit hole with us.

I have had the immense pleasure of watching rehearsals these past couple weeks. All of these actors, some of whom are taking on many roles, are unbelievably talented. Looking at it on paper for so long didn’t prepare me for the awesome dance numbers, choreographed by Adam Cates, and the songs that lack for nothing vocally thanks to Music Director Matt Aument and the singing voices of the marvelous cast. But also the text itself has had a breath of new life in the hands of such wonderful actors and of course Kristen Coury, the fearless captain of the ship. Getting to be a part of something so special has been such an honor and I am so excited to share it with you. This production is theatre magic of the highest degree.

In the spirit of Henry Higgins, Lerner and Loewe stubbornly refused to give up on this masterpiece and I, for one, am very grateful for that and after witnessing this production, I hope that you feel the same way.

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