Loverly: Marni Nixon continues love affair with ‘My Fair Lady’
By JODY FEINBERG
The Patriot Ledger
Forty-four years ago, Marni Nixon was the voice of Audrey Hepburn in the film version of ‘‘My Fair Lady.’’ On Tuesday, she stars as Mrs. Higgins when a production by the National Theatre of Great Britain opens for a 12-day run at The Opera House.
‘‘They wouldn't hire me as Eliza anymore,’’ Nixon joked, in a phone interview last month from Chicago, just after she joined the production. ‘‘Well, why not? I could play it fine, but they wouldn't believe me that I was this young pipsqueak.’’
Nearly 78, Nixon has a long love affair with ‘‘My Fair Lady,’’ which explains why she agreed to go on a five-month tour, the longest she has undertaken.
‘‘It’s one of the great shows of the world,’’ said Nixon, who starred as Eliza Doolittle in 1964 at the New York City Center. ‘‘It’s based on such wonderful material, and it’s such a musical adventure.’’
Nixon was performing last March as Mrs. Higgins in a concert version of the musical with the New York Philharmonic when she was hired for the U.S. tour.
She joins Christopher Cazenove as Professor Henry Higgins and Lisa O’Hare as Eliza Doolittle, who both starred in the British productions that opened in London’s West End in 2001 and toured the United Kingdom in 2005. The U.S. production has the original British artistic team of director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Matthew Bourne.
‘‘A lot of shows lose something when they go on tour, but not this one,’’ Nixon said. ‘‘It’s opulent and full of energy.’’
As Mrs. Higgins, Nixon appears in only a few scenes, but her role is pivotal, especially when Eliza leaves Professor Higgins and comes to her for advice. Refined and genteel, Mrs. Higgins is a match for her son with her sarcasm and determination.
After Higgins rants and demands that Eliza return to him, Mrs. Higgins says, ‘‘Very nicely put indeed. No woman could resist such an invitation. ... Eliza came to see me, and I was delighted to have her. If you don’t promise to behave yourself, I shall ask you to leave.’’
Despite the show’s familiarity, Nixon said she continues to appreciate the transformation of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘‘Pygmalion’’ into a musical classic that has moved generations of audiences.
‘‘It’s so insightful, so archetypal,’’ Nixon said. ‘‘It’s the story of someone who wants to get themselves out of being a guttersnipe and has the gumption to try it and succeed.’’
Although it’s a timeless story of reinvention, it’s told with a unique richness of language and wit. It’s also the story of the transformation of Professor Higgins, who appears to need no one and reflects the class and gender distinctions of Britain in the early 20th century.
‘‘It’s very much about the mores and manners of English society,’’ Nixon said. ‘‘Initially, I’m shocked about my son’s experiment (to turn a Cockney girl into a duchess). Eventually, I’m glad, and my secret wish is that he feel something emotionally and get connected. And that happens.’’
When the original production opened on Broadway in 1956, it won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, songs like ‘‘I Could Have Danced All Night,’’ ‘‘Wouldn’t it Be Loverly’’ and ‘‘Get Me to the Church on Time’’ have become part of popular culture.
After the tour ends in June, Nixon will return to her home in New York City and to performing her one-woman show, ‘‘Marni Nixon: The Voice of Hollywood.’’ Nixon also was the film singing voice for Deborah Kerr in ‘‘The King and I’’ and for Natalie Wood as Maria in ‘‘West Side Story.’’ Her 2006 biography, ‘‘I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story,’’ recently was released in paperback, and she is working on another one-woman show.
MY FAIR LADY At The Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston. Feb. 5-17. Tickets are $30-$91. For more information, go to www.myfairladythemusical.com. For tickets, call 617-931-2787 or go to www.broadwayacrossamerica.com.
Copyright 2008 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Saturday, February 02, 2008