My Fair Lady is widely regarded as the perfect musical. Even though it’s one of Broadway’s all-time greatest works, it had an auspicious beginning. The musical is based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. Shaw was resilient to see his work turned into a musical, but that obstacle disappeared in 1950 when he passed away. Film producer Gabriel Pascal, who had purchased the rights to Shaw’s catalog in the 1930s, commissioned Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe to turn Pygmalion into a musical. They struggled in adapting the material for the stage. In fact, Oscar Hammerstein II told Lerner that it was impossible to turn Pygmalion into a musical (Hammerstein and Rodgers had tried before and failed).
Frustrated with their lack of success, Lerner and Loewe abandon the project for two years. When producer Gabriel Pascal died, Lerner saw his obituary and was inspired to return to project. When he did everything fell into place. There was only one problem, Pascal’s rights to Pygmalion were now owned by his estate which was managed by a bank. Undiscouraged, Lerner and Loewe completed the musical without owning the rights. Their gamble paid off. The bank realized Lerner and Loewe were ready to sell My Fair Lady tickets and so they sold them the rights to Pygmalion.
My Fair Lady premiered on Broadway on March 15, 1956. The original cast featured Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins and Julie Andrews, a virtual unknown at the time, as Eliza Doolittle. The production was a huge hit and ran for 2,717 performances (or until Sept. 29, 1962). At the time, it was the longest run in the history of Broadway. The original cast recording was the best-selling album in the U.S. in 1956. The show was nominated for ten Tony Awards. It won five including Best Musical. My Fair Lady had similar success in London’s West End. The show has been revived several times on both sides of the Atlantic.
My Fair Lady tells the story of Henry Higgins who makes a wager with a colleague that in six months he can turn Eliza Doolittle, a churlish street urchin, into an aristocratic young woman. He will do so by making her speak proper English. About every song in My Fair Lady is famous including “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”