The musical centers on Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, whose life flips upside down when she meets phoneticist Henry Higgins. He wagers that in six months he can teach her proper English and transform her into a lady. The true test for Eliza comes when she attends the Embassy Ball, where she charms the prince of Transylvania. Happy with his success, Higgins leaves Doolittle. However, Henry soon realizes that he misses Eliza and begs for her to come back.
The musical was first showcased on The Ed Sullivan Show on March 3, 1957 when members of the original Broadway cast, including Stanley Holloway, Gordon Dillworth and Rod McClennan performed “With a Little Bit of Luck.” Alan Lerner and Fritz Loewe themselves later gave their own version of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” Then John Michael King, also from the original Broadway cast, sang “On the Street Where You Live,” and Edward Mulhare, who had replaced Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins, sang “Why Can’t the English?”
The March 19, 1961 episode celebrated the five year anniversary of My Fair Lady’s Broadway premier. In a discussion with Ed that night, Lerner and Lowes explained that the musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, was almost never created. They weren’t sure that the play would successfully translate into a musical. Before they decided to completely write it off, they narrowed their problems down to two things. The first was that the play only made mention of the gala scene and never actually showed it. The second was the realization that the father character needed to be woven into the entire plot of the musical. This stroke of genius gave us the unforgettable tune, “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and a meatier role for the character of Alfred P. Doolittle.
That evening, actor Charles Victor kicked off the My Fair Lady tribute by performing “With a Little Bit of Luck” in full costume. Julie Andrews brought Eliza Doolittle to life as she whimsically sang “Wouldn’t it be Loverly?” Melono Fabregas performed “Why Can’t the English?” Then Julie Andrews returned and transformed from rags to riches to sing “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Other Lerner and Lowe shows honored that night were Brigadoon, Gigi, Paint Your Wagon, and their most recent endeavor, the Broadway show Camelot.
My Fair Lady was so successful that the original cast recording became the best-selling album of 1957 and 1958. Though the original Broadway production closed in 1962, it had several revivals on Broadway and in London, England and Sydney, Australia. The show has won an astounding eight Tony awards, including the big one — Best Musical of 1956. It was made into a film in 1964, albeit with much controversy after the decision to not cast Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady. While her replacement, Audrey Hepburn, didn’t receive much critical acclaim, Andrews went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in “Mary Poppins,” also produced that same year.