It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"My Fair Lady" is the best and most unlikely of musicals, during which I cannot decide if I am happier when the characters are talking or when they are singing. The songs are literate and beloved; some romantic, some comic, some nonsense, some surprisingly philosophical, every single one wonderful. The dialogue by Alan Jay Lerner wisely retains a great deal of "Pygmalion" by George Bernard Shaw, himself inspired by Ovid's Metamorphosis.
This fusion functions at such an elevation of sophistication and wit that when poor smitten Freddy sings "On the Street Where You Live," a song that would distinguish any other musical, this one drops Freddy entirely rather than risk another such simplistic outburst. His sincerity seems childlike compared with the emotional fencing match between the guarded Higgins and the wary Eliza. It is characteristic that in a musical that has love as its buried theme, no one ever kisses, or seems about to.
The story involves a meeting of two egos, one belonging to the linguist Henry Higgins, the other, no less titanic, to the flower girl Eliza Doolittle. It is often mistakenly said that they collaborate because Higgins (Rex Harrison) decides to improve Eliza's Cockney accent. In fact it is Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) who takes the initiative, presenting herself at Henry's bachelor quarters to sign up for lessons: "I know what lessons cost as well as you do, and I'm ready to pay."
Even in this early scene, it is Eliza's will that drives the plot; Higgins might have tinkered forever with his phonetic alphabet and his recording devices if Eliza hadn't insisted on action. She took seriously his boast the night before, in Covent Garden: "You see this creature with her curbstone English? The English that will keep her in the gutter till the end of her days? Well, sir, in six months, I could pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy Ball. I could even get her a job as a lady's maid or a shop assistant, which requires better English." The final twist, typical Shavian paradox, is what Eliza hears, and it supplies her inspiration: "I want to be a lady in a flower shop instead of sellin' at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. But they won't take me unless I can talk more genteel."