Nixon takes on a different role in ‘My Fair Lady’ revival
By Jenna Scherer, Boston Herald
You may not have heard of Marni Nixon, but you’ve definitely heard her.
She’s the singing chops behind some of the biggest film stars of the 1950s and ’60s, the one who stepped up to the high notes when the big names couldn’t. She ghost-voiced Deborah Kerr in “The King and I” (1956), Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” (1961), and Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady” (1964).
And she didn’t receive a mention in the credits for any of these roles.
But one can’t stay a ghost forever, and the accomplished Nixon has since seen her own name in lights. Most recently, she joined the touring company of, ironically enough, “My Fair Lady,” which makes a two-week stop at the Opera House starting Tuesday. Only this time around, Nixon’s not playing Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle. She’s taking up the lacy gloves and spectacular hat of Mrs. Higgins, the musical’s wise, catty matron.
She’s only just joined this cast, a company of mostly British actors performing Trevor Nunn’s revival. The production debuted at London’s National Theatre in 2001 to raves, before traveling around the UK and eventually hopping the pond.
Having only performed in two cities so far, Nixon’s slowly adjusting life on the road.
“I’m having first-time-traveling-to-town problems with microwaves and losing things down the drain,” she lamented over the phone.
She’s often revisited Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical over the years. In addition to dubbing Hepburn in the film, she’s played the role of Eliza Doolittle onstage several times. Last year, she took on Mrs. Higgins in a concert version of the piece at Lincoln Center.
Formidable a role though Mrs. Higgins is, there is one drawback: She doesn’t perform a song. But Nixon is unperturbed.
“Yes, of course I’d like to sing,” she said. “But you can’t have everything. One doesn’t have the feeling that there’s anything missing.”
She’s best known for her dubbing work, but Nixon has done much before and since. She’s been onstage in everything from operas to Broadway musicals, hosted an Emmy-winning children’s television show, and she teaches master classes across the country. She’s even put together a one-woman show about her career titled “Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood.”
Still, I couldn’t help asking what it was like to work with Hepburn.
“She was a spectacular thinker, a thoughtful person, very intellectual,” Nixon recalled. “She was working with a voice teacher all the time. She was very disappointed when the things that she had tried so hard to do were being cut out. She didn’t like that necessarily, but she had to accept it.”
It comes as little surprise that for Nixon, performing onstage trumps behind-the-scenes work any day.
“When I was doing the dubbing, I just thought of it as a wonderful, technical thing to do, but I didn’t think of that as a career. The biggest satisfaction is doing a magnificent musical play onstage with a live audience every night. That’s the cat’s whiskers.”
“My Fair Lady,” Tuesday through Feb. 17 at the Opera House. Tickets: $27.50-$88.50. Call 617-931-2000.
Loverly: Trevor Nunn’s ‘My Fair Lady’ starts a two-week run at the Opera House on Tuesday.