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Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady by Keith Garebian

Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady by Keith Garebian

In an age of seemingly exhaustive biographies and prolific cultural studies, Routledge’s Fourth Wall “study series” offers a refreshingly intimate look at some turning points in modern theatrical history.

Keith Garebian’s Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady is a distillation of years of the author’s intimate knowledge about this and other musicals. His love for his subject and his impeccable prose make reading it a delight, as he cleverly dissects the personal and the artistic, showing how one helped form the other in what was to become the Broadway version of George Bernard Shaw’s much-loved tale of the erudite Englishman who teaches a Cockney flower girl to pass as a “lady.”

The contributions of Hart, coming after other directors were considered, ensured that there would be a gay code to the musical’s making.

Most revealing are his stories of how Julie Andrews struggled to broaden the scope of her acting, at times under duress from the callow egotism of co-star Rex Harrison, and how in real life Harrison managed to combine the role of well-bred Englishman with that of the sexist alpha-male. (With an eventual full count of six wives and two autobiographies to his credit, or discredit, he was well-suited to the part.)

On the whole there is a far greater emphasis on the show’s lyrics than its music, but this only serves to underline Garebian’s mastery of the language…

Wisely, Garebian includes Moss Hart, the show’s “sexually ambiguous” director who put the show through numerous revisions until it became what has been referred to as “the perfect musical.” The contributions of Hart, coming after other directors were considered, ensured that there would be a gay code to the musical’s making. Garebian dives directly into this aspect as well, linking theories of sex roles and sexuality. The use of academic “queer theory” jargon, all the rage in some quarters, is thankfully minimal, although the text is carefully sprinkled with phrases like “gender imperialism” to give it a brief but colourful spin.

On the whole there is a far greater emphasis on the show’s lyrics than its music, but this only serves to underline Garebian’s mastery of the language (he is also a poet.) It’s here he shows his full understanding of the work’s literary elements. The result, a thorough yet easily digested analysis, makes the work relevant to today’s audiences, rendering it far more than just a lovely anachronism.

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Jeffrey Round is the author of nine novels, including the Lambda Award-winning Lake On The Mountain, and a poetry collection, In the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci. His first two books, A Cage of Bones and The P-town Murders, were listed on AfterElton’s Top 50 Greatest Gay Books. He is a founding member of the Naked Heart Festival of Words.


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