In my previous My Fair Lady posting, I explained the mechanics behind a large piece of the production’s set. In the talkback after this week’s all-public-schools matinee of the musical, several students expressed a similar interest in knowing about the magic behind the machinery. Taking part in the LCT education department’s Open Stages Program, the students were prepared for the experience with three workshops dealing with such topics as the class structure in 1912 London and the evolution of Eliza Doolittle. (There is also a post-show workshop.)
One student asked how the character of Eliza Doolittle, portrayed by Lauren Ambrose, could change so quickly out of her complex outfits. Alexandra Lopez, who is LCT’s Associate Director of Education and who facilitated the talk-back, explained that Eliza “has a lot of people help her.” This led to a brief discussion of all the people backstage who keep the show running every day: dressers, stagehands, stage managers.
Another student wondered how long it took to build the set. “About 20 minutes,” joked Paul Smithyman, the LCT production manager, who was standing to one side of the stage. In fact, construction of the bulk of the set began just after Thanksgiving 2017.
Other participants asked more thematic questions. One student asked for help in interpreting the “Get Me to the Church” number, which this audience greeted with raucous delight. It’s Doolittle’s “bachelor party,” replied one of the ensemble’s female members.
Another student wondered about the production’s ending and how it related to Nora’s final gesture in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Bartlett Sher, the production’s director, replied that Shaw, on whose Pygmalion My Fair Lady is based, wrote a long essay called “The Quintessence of Ibsenism,” which in part reflected Shaw’s intense interest in social progress for women.
As part of student interest in production elements, there were questions about the actors, their backgrounds, and how they approach their roles. Ambrose said she considered it “a great honor” to play Eliza every night,” adding, “I feel moved by her journey and transformation.” Several students, a group of whom self-identified as feminists, applauded Ambrose’s remarks and what her Eliza decides to do at the end of the story. I cannot give away that action, but I can say that one of the feminist students said that the decision was “very empowering.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com