When director Bartlett Sher mounted an acclaimed production of the classic Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center last year, it reminded many theater lovers why – with songs like “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly – this musical remains so dear to their hearts. And it was embraced for its modern interpretations of key roles.
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture Pygmalion, My Fair Lady follows the relationship between Eliza Doolittle, a young Cockney flower seller, and linguistics professor Henry Higgins, who is determined to transform her into what he considers a “proper lady.”
Broadway vet Adam Grupper plays the coveted role of Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, who gets to lead the rousing production numbers “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”
“One of the things that I love about how Bart has perceived Doolittle is that typically he is played as a jolly, talkie drunkard, and a lovable scamp,” Grupper says. “What Bart has done is taken off that sheen of geniality and made him a much more dangerous character in the way that I think Shaw intended. He’s much more revolutionary and trying to put a thumb in the eye of middle class morality.”
“My Fair Lady‘s not one that’s done very frequently, in part because it’s so difficult to mount. It has a huge cast, big set pieces, elaborate costumes, challenging orchestrations, so it’s expensive.” Grupper says. But it’s a musical he’s loved since childhood.
Growing up in a suburb outside of New York City, where musical theater was a big part of his household, Grupper remembers vividly two album covers that were in the house—West Side Story and My Fair Lady. “I listened endlessly to that recording,” he says. “In those days, you would just sit there and stare at the album cover and read the notes. It was an iconic album for me growing up and it had a very strong part of my experience with musical theater.”
When he was 15, Grupper landed his first leading role, and it just so happened to be this role. “I was Doolittle in our high school summer production,” he recounts. “What was cool about it was the director of our show was one of the cast members of the original production of My Fair Lady on Broadway and I’m convinced that much of the staging was from what she had remembered from doing the show.”
Each night when he goes on stage for this tour, Grupper tries to insert little remembrances from that time, almost 45 years later, in tribute.
Grupper’s impressive Broadway résumé includes Fiddler on the Roof, Wicked, The Addams Family, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Guys and Dolls and made his Broadway debut in Into the Woods.
“What I mostly remember about my Broadway debut is how light it felt. It didn’t feel like an extraordinary event, it felt more like a homecoming—a place I always wanted to be.”
Grupper knows that there are a lot of theater fans who, like him, hold a special place in their hearts for My Fair Lady, and shares that the musical holds up strong for today’s audience.
“This show has been called the perfect musical and a champagne musical, but I think it really needs to be a lot more than that just to be relevant today,” Grupper says. “One of the things that makes the show more accessible to audiences is that it’s more thought provoking.”
For instance, by making Shaw’s Pygmalion the foundation of the musical, Barlett Sher shifts the focus to address issues of class, gender, social mobility and power in society.
Of Sher’s new closing scene: “A lot has been written about the #MeToo movement and My Fair Lady, and I hope that our audiences will be walking away talking about it in a way that they may not have if they had seen some frothy champagne musical,” he says.
The National Tour of the Bartlett Sher production of My Fair Lady is playing the Kennedy Center through Jan. 19, 2020. DCTS details and tickets