I recently attended an enchanting matinee performance of “My Fair Lady” at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre at the University of Connecticut. “My Fair Lady” — has there ever been a better musical production created in America? My excitement and anticipation before the performance somehow surprised me, though. Yes, it’s a great show with the most memorable musical numbers such as “Wouldn’t it be Loverly?,” “With a Little Bit of Luck,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “Just You Wait.” But why did I have this indescribable feeling that I was putting together the pieces of a mysterious jigsaw puzzle in my head as I sat down in my fourth row seat?
I looked down at my playbook just before the lights went down, and read the names of the songs that were to be performed in the first and second act. Then, my friend, Eleanor, and I looked at each other with smug smiles on our faces, knowing that we would recognize each and every tune even before we heard them. The lights were dimmed and we began to watch the story of Eliza, the cockney flower vendor on the dirty streets of turn-of-the-twentieth century London catching the eye of a dialectician and his friend, phonetics professor Henry Higgins. Professor Higgins wagers that he can turn this ragged, flower girl with a cockney slang into a proper lady within six months.
After taking Eliza into his home, Professor Higgins and his linguist friend, Colonel Pickering, make multiple attempts to convert her language, manner, and looks into one of an aristocrat but to no avail. It’s not until she finally catches on to the correct accent when reciting “The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain” that they realize they are on to something. By George, they were on to something, and so was I! The cut-out pieces of that puzzle were beginning to come together for me. It had something to do with my mother, who had her own accented voice. But what was the full mystery?
At the end of the first act, Eliza has appeared as a beautiful, well-spoken lady at the Embassy Ball, dazzling all who are in attendance. However, during the intermission, as we waited for the second act, I was still pondering over what could be gnawing at me about “My Fair Lady?” What was so especially significant about this play? Then the second act began with Colonel Pickering congratulating Professor Higgins on his triumph, his successful transformation of Eliza Doolittle, “You Did It.” It was then that it all started falling into place for me. That was it. I had seen this play before, many years before, when I was thirteen years old. My mother earned a bonus from her employer at the dress factory where she worked, two train tickets to New York City, a night at a New York hotel, and two tickets to see “My Fair Lady” on Broadway!
So what made this all come back to me soon after watching the beginning of the second act? I had never seen it before. As an immigrant from a small village in Eastern Europe, my mother had never attended a theatre performance before, and neither had I. We thought the show was over after the first act and left the theatre, marveling at how nice it was that snacks and drinks were served in the lobby at the end of the show. But it didn’t matter. We had a wonderful time anyway, and I sang “I Could Have Danced All Night” all the way back to Springfield.