Every time that I’ve seen My Fair Lady in a theater, I’ve been tempted to sing along, I like the songs so much. I finally got to let loose at a Sing-A-Long showing of this Oscar-winning 1964 musical on February 28, 2010 at the Michigan Theater.
The theater helped set the atmosphere for this movie about a flower girl by handing out flowers to people as they walked in. The different colored roses and tulips bobbed around the main auditorium as Father Andrew Rogers played some pre-movie melodies on the Barton theater organ.
Theater CEO/Executive Director Russ Collins introduced the film, along with some young girls from the audience who were dressed up like Eliza Doolitle. Loud applause greeted these girls when they imitated Audrey Hepburn’s Cockney accent. One young girl said that she owned the movie My Fair Lady, along with the movie Gigi (which was released in 1958 to capitalize on the plot of My Fair Lady, which was still going strong on Broadway).
Soon the movie started, the latest in a series of Sing-A-Long movies at the Michigan, along with Mary Poppins, Annie, and White Christmas. It was also my second viewing of My Fair Lady in four months, thanks to the Redford Theatre, which showed the film in November. The Redford also showed Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast in Tiffany’s a few weeks ago, so the Detroit Movie Palaces helped me enjoy this wonderful actress in two of her most famous roles in the space of just a few weeks.
After getting into the mood of the event with the first song “Why Can’t The English?” (sung by Rex Harrison), I got to enjoy one of the songs that I was most looking forward to singing—”Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”. You couldn’t help but get caught up in the optimism on the face of Audrey Hepburn, and the beautiful lyricism of Marnie Nixon, who did Hepburn’s singing.
Later, Hepburn and Nixon teamed up for the song that drew the loudest applause when it ended—”I Could Have Danced All Night”. The excitement of the song grew through the three choruses until you were completely pulled into Eliza’s glorious moment, as she celebrated her successful transition from a flower girl to a lady.
Other personal favorites were “On The Street Where You Live,” “Show Me,” and “Get Me To The Church On Time.” A strong mixture of laughter and singing filled the auditorium when actor Jeremy Brett (and the dubbed singer Bill Shirley) did a reprise of “On The Street Where You Live,” humorously demonstrating that he indeed was going to sing outside Henry Higgins’ house until Eliza Doolittle came out.
An interesting challenge was singing along with some of Rex Harrison’s tunes, which were really a mixture of speaking and singing. It was hard to keep up with his phrasing, and I often just stopped trying, along with many other people in the theater. But Harrison’s unique style was part of the appeal of the movie. I was similarly challenged at the Sing-A-Long screening of White Christmas in December, when I gained a new appreciation for the phrasing styles of Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.
You could tell that many people were very familiar with the lyrics, along with the different English accents used by the Harrison, Hepburn, and others. In a couple of songs where familiar phrases (like “just you wait”) were intentionally cut off at the end of a song, the audience went ahead with the whole phrase, drawing good-natured laughter.
By the end of the movie, I think I figured out how to sing with Harrison. Just float over his phrases, and don’t try to match them, syllable for syllable. That paid off during “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” which ended very quietly with the word “face”. The audience poignantly enunciated the final “s” sound, which echoed throughout the musically perfect acoustics of the large, 1700-seat Michigan auditorium.
Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.