By George, we’ve got it! Lost songs of My Fair Lady to play again

THEY WERE written for the Broadway stage, but hidden away for almost 60 years.

The Warner Brothers' poster for My Fair Lady
The Warner Brothers' poster for My Fair Lady

Now, thanks to a lecturer at the University of Sheffield, lost songs from the musical My Fair Lady will be heard for the first time since 1956.

They were unearthed by musicology lecturer Dr Dominic McHugh at the US Library of Congress in 2008, while he was researching his PhD. Among hundreds of boxes of papers were the original handwritten sheet music for 12 songs, including two cut from the show after its preview and many more that never made it.

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And now, after receiving permission from the estate of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and the foundation of composer Frederick Loewe, they are now being performed as part of the University’s Festival of Arts and Humanities this month.

Dr McHugh said: “Most of the papers were rubbish, and there was no catalogue. It was a fluke that it was discovered at all. Everybody assumed the music was lost, but it had languished there for decades.”

My Fair Lady was written by Americans Lerner and Loewe in the 1950s and tells the story of Cockney flowergirl Eliza Doolittle, who becomes a project for phoneticist Henry Higgins. It set the record for the longest run of any major musical theatre production, and spawned numerous revivals and a film.

Some of the rediscovered songs had been written for the character of Henry Higgins - but the casting of the role, Rex Harrison, presented a problem.

“He couldn’t sing,” said Dr McHugh. “The songs that stayed in for Higgins were changed to be suitable for someone with lesser vocal technique, and the others were got rid of all together.

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady".

“When it came to the first preview, he basically told everyone to go home because he was terrified, he thought he couldn’t do it. The director gave him a pep talk and told him he’d ruin his career if he didn’t go on. They had to go on the local radio to call everyone back to theatre.”

Following the previews in early 1956, the musical was tweaked, with a ten-minute ballet section removed. The Broadway show premiered in March 1956 and ran for over 2,700 performances - a record at the time.

Dr McHugh said: “Nobody really knew what the ballet music consisted of. Many musicals of that period included a ballet, and they spent months devising it. But they realised after one performance that the show was just too long and the ballet didn’t quite work, so they got rid of it.”

He added: “When the university announced that we were to create a Festival of Arts and Humanities, I knew we needed to do something special. Thanks to the incredible support and vision of the Lerner and Loewe estates, Sheffield audiences will be the first to hear this magical music in decades, for one night only.”

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady

New orchestrations of other discarded songs, by former student Matthew Malone, will be performed by a 37-strong student orchestra during the evening. Distinguished Broadway orchestrator Larry Blank - who has worked on major productions such as White Christmas, The Producers and the movie Chicago - has advised Mr Malone on his work on the reconstruction of the orchestrations.

Accustomed to her Face: The Lost Songs of My Fair Lady will be performed as part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of Arts and Humanities on Tuesday May 19 2015. Tickets are free but most be booked in advance via www.sheffield.ac.uk/festivalah.

NOW TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE ON MY FAIR LADY

1. On which play was the musical originally based?

2. Who wrote the music and lyrics

3. Who played Eliza Doolittle in the original Broadway production?

4. Who dubbed Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice in the movie?

5. Which Hollywood mogul secured the movie rights to the musical?

Answers

1. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

2. Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music)

3. Julie Andrews

4. Marni Nixon

5. Jack L Warner, one of the original Warner Brothers