Michael Hegarty as Alfred P. Doolittle and The Company © Jeremy Daniel
Sami Murphy, veteran actress, is back in a huge play yet again, this time in My Fair Lady. She’s not the star, but a co-star who appears as numerous different characters in the show. You see her again and again and again.
She can’t wait to tell you her favorite scene – the favorite of millions who have seen the play and the movie – the race track scene. Poor, cockney Eliza Doolittle is taken to a famed London race track by her mentor, Henry Higgins. Everybody there is smug and sophisticated – hardly a mumble or a peep out of them. All is quiet, quiet, quiet.
The race starts and in a few minutes the horses are in the stretch, headed as fast as they can go to the finish line. All of the men and women are nodding their heads in approval or shaking them quietly in disapproval.
Enough of this, decided Eliza. She moved to the rail and in that famous cockney accent roared at the horse she bet on, “Come on, move your bloomin’ arse!”
Everybody loves it. She is as sophisticated looking as can be, but the old street girl, mouthy and cocky as ever, is still there, very loudly shaking up London and the stage.
Right there, in the middle of that scene, yelling her lungs out, is actress Sami Murphy. Sami is co-starring in My Fair Lady at the State Theatre, in New Brunswick, Friday through Sunday, January 27-29.
My Fair Lady debuted on Broadway in 1957, with music by Alan Lerner and Frederick Loew. It was turned into a film and won the Oscar for Best Movie in 1964.
Anyone who sees it is sure to go home, toss their winter coat on to a big, soft sofa and say, well. “I could have danced all night.”
Sami smiles at the song. “Great, great song, Learned it long ago,” she said.
You see, before Sami was a theater veteran she was a competitive dancer as a teenager. “We had different songs that we had to dance to and a whole bunch of them, led by ‘I Could Have Danced All Night,’ were from My Fair Lady. Now, being a kid, I did not know they were all from that play. When I got older, I could look back, with great pride, and tell people I learned how to dance thanks to My Fair Lady.”
Playing different roles in the play delights her. “The star of this play, of any play, sees it from their point of view. Here, in these different roles, I get to see the place from many points of view and working with many different characters in the story. It is really fun to do this,” she said.
It is far more fun for the audience, she admits. The cheers for the cast at the end of the show are long and loud. “People like the play,” she said. “Even if they’ve seen it ten times before this time they come out and they cheer madly for it. That makes us all feel good.”
Come on, just ten times?
I have seen My Fair Lady at least 20 times in the theater and, what, 5,678 times as a movie on television. It’s one of my favorite plays. Not only that, but I can not only remember the songs and scenes, but how audiences reacted to the show, I saw it at Lincoln Center a few years ago and when Eliza got down on her knees at the end of “I Could Have Danced All Night” and slid across the stage the audience absolutely loved - went just nuts. Hundreds of people were on their feet, clapping their hands, roaring and roaring away. It was a moment.
“That happens a lot,” said Sami. “People just like the play."
Jonathan Grunert as Professor Henry Higgins and Madeline Powell as Eliza Doolittle and John Adkison as Colonel Pickering © Jeremy Daniel
I asked her, as I ask everybody I talk to who is in a tour show, in what city was it most appreciated.
“Every one of them,” Sami said. “It is as loved in the east as in the west, in the United States as well as England, Canada, France. Hey, I’ll bet it is loved on Mars, too.”
Sami has been with the show all fall and early winter. She has seen a lot of audiences.
“There is a magic to the show. Everybody says that and it is true. I think the number one selling point of the show are the songs, gems all, but the overall story of a poor, uncouth street girl who is turned into a sophisticated woman by Professor Higgins – but never, never, never loses her cockney charm, is undeniable. She just does not deserve to be in that rarefied world of the sophisticated. Yes, she does. Life is what we make it. Eliza’s success it loved by all because we know we can be successful at whatever we do – if we try hard enough. That storyline, the rags to riches touch, is the backbone of My Fair Lady. There is no need for anyone to live badly. The play proves that. It proves, too, that being rich and successful does not make you a good person. Eliza is the perfect example of that. She is poor and uneducated, but good, good, good.”
Sami Murphy and Michael Hegarty as Alfred P Doolittle and Ashley Agrusa © Jeremy Daniel
One thing that has changed is that role of the woman in society.
“Eliza as the strong, independent woman who was way ahead of her times back in the fifties and sixties The independent woman of today is even stronger and has more say in society. Eliza did that for women when the play opened and she does it today, too,” said Murphy.
One thing to remember now is that the end of the play today is very different than it was in the movie. I’m not going to tell you the new end but, well, it is really different.
“I like the new end a lot. A whole bunch of people in the audiences so far don’t like it and a whole lot do. Very mixed feelings about it. Plays should change. This one has been around sixty some years. The word has changed a lot in 60 years and so have women. Plays should keep up with a world that is ever changing," said Murphy.
But, directors and producers of the show over the next 50 or 60 years, go ahead an add some thing here as the years to by and take out some things there, but please, please, please, don’t ever take “I Could Have Danced all Night” out of the show. Oh, no, And please, please, please get Eliza’s dear, dear old dad to the church on time!
The Company © Jeremy Daniel
Performances take place Friday, January 27 at 8:00pm; Saturday, January 28 at 2:00pm & 8:00pm; and Sunday, January 29 at 2:00pm. For ticket information, click here.
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