After an electrifying summer of sensational music, our 32nd season comes to a climactic close with a production of My Fair Lady. Inspired by GB Shaw’s Pygmalion, the original play stepped onto the stages of Broadway, under the direction of George Cukor, and grew into an international phenomenon on the big screen. And now, we’re fortunate to experience this marvelous musical right here in Hamilton.
Why My Fair Lady? Following the incredible success of last year’s performance of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, the Festival team knew that this was something Hamilton audiences wanted. My Fair Lady was voted in as one of the most popular musical comedies written with a full orchestration and not just a pit band.
My Fair Lady, the musical, opened on Broadway in 1956 and went on to win six Tony Awards. The production starred Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins and the jubilant Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. The play experienced incredible success with its 2,717 performances but when it came time to transition to the big screen film producer Jack L. Warner felt that Harrison made the cut for Hollywood, but Andrews wasn’t well known enough to film audiences. Consequently, he decided to cast Audrey Hepburn as Eliza instead—even though she did not have the same vocal prowess as Andrews—as a result, Hepburn’s singing in the film was dubbed by Marni Nixon. However, all ended well for Julie Andrews as this allowed her to be available for a little film called Mary Poppins, which ultimately shot her into stardom.
Most are familiar with the 1964 musical film. It leaves us with lasting impressions as we’re drawn into the transformation of Hepburn’s portrayal of Eliza. We watch as a simple flower seller (Hepburn) is taken in by noted phonetics expert Higgins (Harrison) as he claims that, with enough time and work, he could teach Eliza to speak English well enough to be taken for a duchess. The story is of her metamorphosis from Covent Garden flower girl to a Hungarian princess while being escorted by the enduring music of iconic duo Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
Fifty-five years later, the iconic roll of Eliza Doolittle will be taken on by Stratford native Maya Jenkins in her role debut. At the age of twenty-three, Jenkins is a recent graduate of the Honours Bachelor of Music Theatre Performance program at Sheridan College, where she stacked up several Canadian Music Theatre Project musicals.
In a recent interview with the Hamilton Spectator, Jenkins discussed her creative process involved in taking on this role: having grown up watching the famous film, she made an effort to avoid watching it again upon earning the role, as she believes Hepburn’s performance was too incredible to replicate and wanted to make it her own.
Jenkins had a particularly interesting challenge when it came to the shift in accent. Naturally, she speaks Canadian English, not only did she have to master the Cockney and RP (Received Pronunciation) English in a speaking voice, she also had to learn to create a significant dynamic shift in singing voice as well. No doubt this was an insight into Dootlittle’s transfiguration and may prove an asset into portraying the role with as much authenticity as possible. For a further breakdown into this process, you can read the article here.
Jenkins will be joined by a remarkably talented cast, starring Martin Julien as Henry Higgen, Amber Mills as Mrs. Higgins, Paula Grove as Mrs. Pearce, John Bond as Colonel Pickering, Nick Settimi as Alfred P. Dootlittle, Daniel Allain as Freddy, and a 15-voice chorus. (Click here for cast bios)
We will also once again have the pleasure of witnessing the stunning artworks of Jacqui Templeton Muir, which will be projected onto the backdrop of the stage.
We look forward with excitement to encounter this joyful, funny, and moving Cinderella story. With memorable pieces such as On the Street Where You Live and I Could Have Danced All Night, you’ll undoubtably be humming our way back home and for days to come.
By Heidi Hoffmann