They say you never forget your first.
Musical, that is.
And for many people I know their first was something a little irrelevant, merely a gateway drug to unleash them into the crazy and diverse world of theatre. Yet, whilst I'd love to say that my favourite musical is Hamilton, or The Last Five Years, or Miss Saigon I can't help but be held back by something else, something which for so long has been hidden inside of me, the 'Golem' of my musical theatre life, holding me still so I don't stray too far. You never forget your first, and my first is the creature hidden within me - but rather than being dark and weirdly creepy, it's a brightness and a warmth which reminds me time and time again of how wonderful musicals can be and make a person feel. My first is my favourite, my favourite is my first. Because, as they say, we have a special bond, and it began when I was 7.
I was ill. It was raining. My mum worked in the evenings and so when I was ill and trapped indoors she would sit with me and we would watch films. Before she introduced me to Fred & Ginger, or Strictly Ballroom, she initiated me with a timeless classic - My Fair Lady. It was magical. The classic tale of a working-class girl practically turned into a princess but this time she was feisty, and a dreamer, and of course she slowly fell in love with the male protagonist - Henry Higgins. As a 7-year-old girl, it was magical to see a story brought to life with music and dance in a way that made me feel cured of all illness - (Disclaimer: I wasn't cured, I had the swine flu, I was pretty ill).
When I recovered, the movie went on my chain re-watching list, a list which at the time mostly consisted of the Justice League cartoons and the Beauty and the Beast film. I must have watched it 30 times in the following months, and it never lost its magic. Looking past the music and beauty, here's why: My Fair Lady tells the story of a lady who grew up in a gutter, dreaming of “a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air” which to my younger self was so powerful. As a family who had lived in poverty since I was born this was such a strong sentiment to me, because I always dreamed of one day being able to be whisked away to a life full of money, of fancy parties and of new technology and a house that wasn't a mouldy flat above an off-licence. To 7-year-old me, Eliza Doolittle seemed to have such a similar life (7 year old me was a bit of an exaggerator) and so at that point, it felt nice to have a musical that started off with a girl like me, and finished with a strong, clever woman who also had a very handsome man by her side...
At this point I would like to make the following note on Rex Harrison: Yes, he was a bit of a hearthrob way back when. No, he can't sing. Neither can Russell Crowe. Did he make a good Professor Henry Higgins though? Yep.
So, this musical, that tiny me adored, why is it still my favourite?
Let's begin with the sheer intelligence of it - I know some of you may argue, but it is a very clever, and witty book. Just a short quip here and there, as a way to remind us that this girl (Eliza) is incredibly smart, has a real personality, and isn't afraid to fight back. For me this role model is so perfect, because she is smart and still allowed to fall head over heels for a man. Maybe it's my old romantic nature, but I love that concept, and at this moment in time it sometimes feels like you can't fall in love without losing yourself (Grease), My Fair Lady simply tells us that that idea is completely ok.
I no longer live in a mouldy flat above an Off Licence, we have a real house now, but still this musical which focuses around a dreamer is so special to me because it encourages me to dream. My Fair Lady is a musical of dreamers, who could have danced all night and still kept dancing. There is something so gorgeous and inspiring about owning your hopes and dreams without any shame, and now every day I am reminded that I can keep dreaming big - even if some of my dreams are already answered.
It's a timeless tale of education, romance, and dreams and no, it is nothing like modern musicals, and maybe that's what brings it so close to my old heart. I love rap, angst, and all that jazz but most importantly I love strong stories with strong women wearing beautiful dresses. Women taking hold of their future and owning decisions.
Yes, My Fair Lady is my favourite musical. It's old and jazzy and eccentric. And that's ok, because I love it all the same.
I also really love Audrey Hepburn (and Julie Andrews....) What heroes.