Monday, July 7, 2008

Recycled Ideas

Recently, I had the opportunity to see My Fair Lady at the Muny. I didn’t see it so much out of pure desire, but because the tickets were free, and I can’t resist a free trip to the theater.

Bored as I was during the show, I started to contemplate the moral of the story or what it was all of the characters were striving toward. Having trouble coming up with a clear answer, I considered the precursors of My Fair Lady.

It is well known that the musical is based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. In fact, the plots of both – shrewd academician transforms uncouth country girl into prim and proper lady – are nearly identical except for their respective conclusions.

The name Pygmalion itself is a reference to a Greek myth in which a lonely man fashions the likeness of a woman out of marble and for his kindness is rewarded by the gods with a real woman to marry.

Contemplating this, I thought perhaps the inherent charm of My Fair Lady was the supposedly entertaining plot device of someone “improving” someone else while hilarity and romance unquestionably ensue. That’s probably true for most people, but I don’t find those kinds of stories entertaining.

And then, I picked up on another theme that maybe isn’t so obvious. During one of the few scenes that genuinely moved me, the heroine, Eliza Doolittle, plaintively and repeatedly wails to her instructor of proper grammar, Prof. Higgins, “What will become of me?”

At that moment, the lines, “You become responsible forever for what you have tamed,” from the French tale The Little Prince came fluttering through my mind. Yes, I decided, this was the moral of My Fair Lady: Higgins created the new Eliza, and he was subsequently responsible for her. That was a premature conclusion on my part, as several scenes later Higgins tells Eliza she is free to leave his home whenever she wants because he has no power over her.

So, to reiterate, I could not identify any clear moral to My Fair Lady, and I wasn’t at all amused by its so-called charms. And, to make it worse, the ending is fairly open-ended, which works for intelligent dramas, but only served to exacerbate my overall irritation with it.

According to that hallowed reference guide, Wikipedia, My Fair Lady has been called the perfect musical. Perfect musical, my ass.


OtherVictorian said...

I wonder if perhaps the message of Pygmalion, or at least My Fair Lady, is as you suggested, one is responsible for one's "creation," but also the idea or implication that class, just as anything else, is a performance. Eliza is unable to "be" upper class unless she can speak and dress as such. Once she does those things "properly," she passes. Her financial status has not changed. She only appears to have changed.

OtherVictorian said...

...which, in my opinion, makes it a very good story. And musical.

QueenMelian said...

That's a good point, I actually thought about that as well during the course of the show. But, then, I dismissed it because, yeah, that's cool class is a performance, but what then? Some people have devoted themselves to the idea that the ignorant and impoverished can be transformed, but usually it takes more than just six months of dictation lessons to that. I concede it's within the realm of possibility that Eliza went on to do something spectacular with her newfound manners and proper English skills, but we'll never know. The bottom line is I left this show dissatisfied because it failed to move me in any significant way (blogging excepted) and what is art to me if it doesn't move me?