Filichia Features: Tips from the MY FAIR LADY Pros

Filichia Features: Tips from the MY FAIR LADY Pros

By Peter Filichia on January 17, 2019

BroadwayCon was great fun last week. Thousands of fans came from seemingly everywhere. Only Brigadoon and Greenwillow weren't represented.

Attendees dropped in on performances given by others (Lip Sync Battle) and themselves (Sondheim Singalong). Photo ops were available with longtime pro Donna Murphy, new legend Betsy Wolfe and just-got-here star Andrew Barth Feldman, who won the 2018 Jimmy Award; that propelled him into becoming the new Evan Hansen.

Business was brisk at The Lights of Broadway, where Justin "Squigs" Robinson purveyed his spot-on caricatures of theater luminaries on baseball cards. Broadway Records sold many CDs "although vinyl of Anastasia," said A&R director Robbie Rozelle, "is selling great."

Hordes attended panel discussions including the one that I moderated with David Winters, West Side Story's original Baby John as well as the one on which I served, celebrating the weekly podcast I do most every Sunday with James Marino on

Some events were relegated to small rooms, but Spotlight: My Fair Lady needed the grand ballroom, what with Laura Benanti (Eliza), Danny Burstein (Alfred Doolittle), Allan Corduner (Pickering) and Harry Hadden-Paton (Henry Higgins) on board.

Those planning productions of the Lerner-Loewe classic might benefit from what was said after moderator Ruthie (Playbill) Fierberg asked astute questions.

If your Higgins isn't nailing the part in rehearsals, perhaps he'll come through once he's in costume. Said Hadden-Paton, "When I put on the tux and tails for the Embassy Ball, I really feel the character. And one time when I was depressed, putting on that outfit pulled me out of it."

Benanti praised Hadden-Paton for not playing Higgins as "a blustery old monster. Harry," she said, "is a genuine person and not an abusive one."

That's important, for we're a long way from being amused when a man bullies a woman.

Finding and giving your character a backstory helps.
Hadden-Paton landed on one that influenced his tirade in "I'm an Ordinary Man." Said he, "I've made it Henry's feeling as a result of a previous unsuccessful relationship with a woman."

Pretty smart, wouldn't you say? So is Hadden-Paton's take that even as late as "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" "Henry's still fighting himself. That keeps it active and doesn't let it be just 'a lovely song.' Henry, who hasn't fully understood emotions, is starting to get it."

Benanti also thought of Eliza's life before the show begins. "Eliza's probably been on the streets since she was 10 and has often slept in her clothes," she noted. "She's used her sense of humor to get through - as I have during my tough times."

Corduner said, "Pickering is a receiver who takes it all in and keeps Higgins honest. He has strength as well as quirkiness." And yet, "You Did It" could pose problems for the character. He's been sensitive to Eliza and now isn't. "He's carried away just as a schoolboy would be," said Corduner. "His mistreatment must be totally unconscious."

(What also occurred to me: Pickering bet that Eliza wouldn't succeed and has lost. So have Pickering give Henry his due, but rue that he must give Henry his money, too.)

Burstein reported that off-the-cuff interviews he taped on the streets of London in 1989 just for fun "included a guy named George who spoke in a way I've never forgotten and have used here." So you never know where inspiration will strike.

Then Burstein added that he got carte blanche to make the part his own and not replicate what Norbert Leo Butz had done. So to all who've previously done any show, don't hamstring your new actors with what your former ones did. The new ones may surprise you with an interpretation that's even better.

Burstein said he plays Alfred P. Doolittle as if "he's drunk in every scene he's in." That's a way to go, and if not overdone, will be fun for your actor to play.

Benanti said that she tried to put a little Cockney into "I Could Have Danced All Night" to suggest - as the Ascot Races did - that Eliza wasn't fully formed. She said she couldn't make it work, but perhaps your Eliza can.

She could, however, find new emotion in Eliza's plaintive "You don't think I'm a heartless guttersnipe, do you?" to Freddy. After all, Higgins has been so dominant that Eliza

half-believes him. She needs this other opinion.

When Fierberg asked the four what they'll always remember about this My Fair Lady, Burstein earnestly said, "That I learned so much about the show from this panel."

Here's hoping that you did, too.

Read more Filichia Features .


You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . He can be heard most weeks of the year on