Backstage Blog

My Fair Lady: The Myth, The Play, The Musical (Part 1)

Part One:The Myth

In this three part series, our resident dramaturge Taylor Wycoff, walks us through the history of how My Fair Lady came to be. Before it became one of the most popular musicals of the century, it was a play.  And before it was a play, it was a myth…

As a dramaturge, when you’re tasked with a beloved classic like My Fair Lady, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. Things like Covent Garden in early 20th century London, or English currency PRE-decimalization. But one thing I found absolutely delightful about working on this show was revisiting its roots. It’s common knowledge that the critically acclaimed musical is based on George Bernard Shaw’s famous play-turned-Academy-Award-winning movie, Pygmalion. What’s lesser known is that the roots of Shaw’s play actually date all the way back to ancient Greece with the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea.

Étienne Maurice Falconet: Pygmalion et Galatée

Étienne Maurice Falconet: Pygmalion et Galatée

So who was Pygmalion? And how did his story end up inspiring such a female-centric narrative? He is most familiar from Ovid’s narrative poem Metamorphoses as the legendary sculptor from Cyprus (Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton), who fell in love with a statue he carved. As the story goes, Pygmalion was so sick of the imperfections of women that he sculpted the perfect woman out of ivory and fell in love with her. At the festival of Aphrodite, when it came time to play his part in the processional, Pygmalion stood before the altar and timidly said, “Ye If you gods can give all things, may I have as my wife, I pray”- he dared not say “the ivory maiden,” but said instead-“one like the ivory maiden.” Aphrodite, who was present at the festival, heard him and knew the thought he would have uttered.

Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786

Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786

Showing her favor, she caused the altar’s flame to flare up three times, shooting a long flame of fire into the still air. After the day’s festivities, when Pygmalion returned home and kissed his Galatea, as was his custom, he was startled by the warmth of her kiss, for Aphrodite had answered his prayers. Aphrodite further blessed the happiness and union of this couple with a child. Pygmalion and Galatea named the child Paphos, for which the city is still known until this day.

Check back next week to learn about George Bernard Shaw and how he adapted this myth into the more well known play of the same title!

A Marriage Made in Theatre Heaven

At Cygnet Theatre, we like to think of ourselves as one big happy family, but two of our My Fair Lady cast members took it a bit more seriously! Featured in multiple roles in the show are married couple Bryan Banville (Assassins) and Katie Whalley Banville (Company, Man of La Mancha). This is not the first time a married couple has taken the stage. The Norman Conquests featured Sandy & Danny Campbell, Bed and Sofa featured Lance Arthur Smith & Colleen Kollar Smith and Assassins included Manny & Melissa Fernandes.

We love Bryan and Katie’s “meet cute” theatre love story and wanted to share it – including the roles fellow cast members Ralph Johnson and Linda Libby played in their romance. A little late for Valentines Day, but very romantic nonetheless! Bryan tells us the tale….

How did you two meet?

I saw Katie in ion theatre’s production of Gypsy. In awe of her performance – and her legs – I asked Ralph Johnson, who was also in the production with her, and Justin Tuazon-Martin, who was in Cygnet’s production of Man of La Mancha with Katie and I, to be introduced. Ralph gave Katie my information, and we connected MONTHS later – due to my shyness – and finally had our first date where I showed up 45 minutes early and waited at the restaurant while Katie showed up 30 minutes early and waited in her car. Although it took a while for the second date to happen, delayed by car troubles, injuries, and plain old scheduling, we both showed up to our second date in the same, identical rental car… And the rest is theatre history.

Katie and Byran backstage in Man of La Mancha

Katie and Byran backstage in Man of La Mancha

 

When and where did you get married?

We were married at the beautiful and historical Lafayette Hotel in 2014. We had an amazing celebration marked with the love and support of our family, friends, and the wonderful members of the San Diego theater community. Sunny Haines (who often works backstage as a dresser at Cygnet) was our wedding planner, Kurt Norby provided all the music, David Brannen (choreographer of My Fair Lady) choreographed our first dance, Jen Wheeler-Khan (Stage Manager at the Playhouse and Old Globe) provided the wonderful decorations, Linda Libby read a beautiful passage during the ceremony, and the wonderful Ralph Johnson got ordained and married us!

The wedding ceremony performed by friend and Cygnet artist Ralph Johnson

The wedding ceremony performed by friend and Cygnet artist Ralph Johnson

What happens when two talented performers get married and share a first dance? Take a look here.

How many times have you worked together?

My Fair Lady will be our 7th production together since we met! Our first production as a couple was at Cygnet when we did Man of La Mancha together. We went on to perform in Mixtape for Lamb’s Players Theatre where we got to go to the 80’s prom every night together. Since we have been married we have done a total of 5 shows including My Fair Lady. Right after our wedding we started rehearsals for Passion at ion theatre and then spent the summer at Moonlight Theatre in Vista performing in Spamalot, Mary Poppins, and Catch Me If You Can - the last two, we got to be dance partners which was super fun!

Share your dream roles as a couple.

View More: http://brookealiceon.pass.us/bkwedding

The Newlyweds

This is an interesting question! We have discussed this a few times and have included some of them below:

1.) Jamie & Kathy in The Last Five Years. The music is so beautiful, and the story would be so challenging to tackle as a married couple!

2.) Millie & Jimmy in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Wonderful show, and fun roles for us to play on our strengths!

3.) Baker & Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods. This would be for when we are a bit older, but it would be an absolute pleasure getting to dive into two characters that reflect our personalities so well!

4.) Edward & Sandra Bloom in Big Fish. Again this would be for when we are older, but it’s one of the most real and loving stories to be told about a couple, and the music is GREAT!

Catch them now through April 26th in My Fair Lady at Cygnet Theatre!

Katie, Bryan, and the cast of My Fair Lady, including Ralph Johnson and Linda Libby.

Katie, Bryan, and the cast of My Fair Lady, including Ralph Johnson and Linda Libby.

Behind-the-Scenes of A Christmas Carol

For every production at Cygnet Theatre, we hold special Designer Forums that take our patrons behind-the-scenes with the creative team.  Listen to the director of each show talk about how they prepare for a show, and get a glimpse into the process of set design, costumes, sound, & lighting.  Check out our latest forum for A Christmas Carol.

Want to attend the next one?  Make sure you’re on our e-blast list to get invitations and reminders.

Director’s Insight: 

Creating the Characters: Costumes & Wigs

The Stage: Set Design

Creative Puppetry

The Magic of Mixing Live & Recorded Sound Effects