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.