'My Fair Lady' comes to Emens

Professor Henry Higgins will attempt to train the feisty tongue of Eliza Doolittle as the two go head to head in this weekend's performance of "My Fair Lady."

Beginning at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, the musical based on George Bernard Shaw's play, "Pygmalion," follows the story of Doolittle, who is taken out of London's lower class and into the aristocratic world of Higgins. On a bet, Higgins takes on the task of turning the Cockney woman into a high society lady by giving her phonetics lessons.

According to Joanne Bauer, associate general manager for Troika Productions, some of the props and sets used onstage will be from the Broadway production.

"This is a full, Broadway-style production," Bauer said. "The music is being done by our musicians in a live orchestra."

Maria Tsiolis, assistant director of marketing for Troika Productions, said that the cast of 33 will stop at 180 different venues. The tour began in September and will end in May, 2002.

Tsiolis said the show lasts two-and-a-half hours, with an intermission.

Michael O'Hara, assistant professor of theater, said he has taught "Pygmalion" dozens of times in theater courses.

"There are multiple messages in the play," O'Hara said. "Any different semester, I target what is a good point of entry for students in a given class."

O'Hara said that this year, in the wake of Sept. 11, he chose to discuss the theme of differences in the story.

"The argument is we're all the same," O'Hara said, "but we articulate differences as to what is learned. Our social barriers are self-constructed."

O'Hara said that "Pygmalion" was Shaw's first big hit in London, and Shaw wrote the play, because he knew a phonetics instructor.

Despite "Pygmalion's" popularity, Shaw refused to allow for his play to be transformed into a musical in his lifetime. Four years after Shaw's death, the Society of Authors in London gained the rights to the play and gave Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe permission to re-create "Pygmalion" in the musical form titled "My Fair Lady."

"Most critics in retrospect view 'My Fair Lady' as the 'perfect musical,' because it blended music and words to forward the story," O'Hara said. "The songs were actually part of the play itself."

One of the major differences between the play, its musical form and the two films that also resulted from Shaw's original story is their endings. Shaw intended for the stories to end without romance between Higgins and Doolittle, though many disagreed.

Shaw named "Pygmalion" after the mythical character of the same name who, after being spurned by his lover decided instead to carve himself an ivory statue of a "perfect" woman. Pygmalion then prayed to Aphrodite for a woman like his statue, and the statue came to life.

After Shaw's death, others altered his ending to fit their own interests. O'Hara said that ending variations do not take away from the overall quality of the production.

"'My Fair Lady' is 'My Fair Lady,'" O'Hara said. "Shaw was dead. Go enjoy the musical."

O'Hara said "My Fair Lady" is the second most popular musical in America, second only to "Oklahoma!"

"This is a piece of cultural heritage," O'Hara said. "Anyone who aspires to any kind of cultural literacy should go see it."

Tickets to "My Fair Lady" are available at the Emens Auditorium Box Office and are free for students in advance as part of the Emens Artist Series. Today, its hours are from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Other tickets are $35, $30 and $25.


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