To mark the first anniversary of LCT’s production of My Fair Lady, a party was held for cast, crew, LCT staff, and friends at Lucky Strike bowling alley at the (very) far west corner of 42nd street. I couldn’t help wondering what George Bernard Shaw – whose Pygmalion, shall we say, under-pins the musical – would have thought of a celebration being held in such a venue. Shaw wrote on a prodigious number of subjects, but I find no mention of the sport in any Shaw database. I decided that Shaw would affect an attitude similar to that displayed by John Gielgud’s manservant in the 1981 movie comedy Arthur – you know, when the servant looks condescendingly at the working-class woman played by Liza Minnelli and pronounces, “Usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature.”
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps Shaw would have acknowledged the virtues of bowling – it is, after all, the most popular sport in America and Shaw was, after all, a socialist. In any event, the actors playing both the toffs and the toughs of My Fair Lady engaged vigorously in the activity. Buoyed by libation and by liberal helpings of grub (pizza, sliders, chicken nuggets), cast and crew members knocked pins dead with the same vigor with which, eight times a week, they knock dead the audiences at the Beaumont.
I asked a few of the actors to cite a memorable moment from the past year of performing. I expected them to mention one-off moments: that time an old friend came round post-show to the dressing room or that time a prop went awry onstage and an ad lib was adroitly produced to cover the mishap. But no: they all shared things that happen every night, onstage.
Danny Burstein, who plays Doolittle, mentioned the moment in Act Two when he invites his daughter, Eliza, to his wedding, but then adds, “I wouldn’t advise it.” Burstein said: “Doolittle is finally acting as a father. He’s inviting Eliza into his life only to discourage her from participating. It’s not a big piece of dialogue but it always moves me.”
Linda Mugleston, who plays Mrs. Pearce, mentioned the moment every night when she takes her final leave from the story. “I’m carrying something and exiting into the dark with Harry. I’m always touched by that moment, and by having watched him perform all evening. He’s so good – working with people of this caliber is something I try never to take for granted.”
As for Harry, he said that his “favorite memory of all was the final curtain call with Lauren” – that’s Lauren Ambrose, the first Eliza in the LCT production. “We ran out and just grabbed each other, making a mess of the choreographed bows but standing side by side looking back on all that we’d been through together. Much like the characters at the end!” Hadden-Paton added: “Otherwise my favorite moments are when I get to squeeze in a quick chat to my fellow actors, not in character. During ‘Poor Professor Higgins,’ I have about five seconds to check in with Laura, before we’re suddenly in the lights and I’m ramming marbles into her mouth.”
The Laura to whom Hadden-Paton refers is of course Laura Benanti, who plays Eliza currently. She herself singled out two favorite things. "I love singing ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ – that never gets old. And I feel so fortunate to perform with Rosemary Harris every night. My daughter loves her, too. My daughter met her and immediately decided that Rosemary was her best friend.” Benanti’s daughter, Ella, is not quite two, and, as her mother and I were having our chat, was in the process of hoisting something shiny and pin-cracking that weighed nearly as much as she did. Like everyone else at Lucky Strike, Ella was having a ball.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com