A Comparison of the First Scenes in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and Alan Jay Lerner’s My Fair Lady

October 23, 2020 by Essay Writer

Comparing Pygmalion & My Fair Lady—Act 1, Scene 1

Because the focus of musicals is more concerned with song and dance and less concerned with dialogue than straight plays are, it stands to reason that musicals seek to simplify the plot in order to make enough room for the numbers, where straight plays are free to elaborate and experiment with character choices through dialogue rather than music. The comparison between the two is quite clear in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and its musical adaptation, My Fair Lady, by Alan Jay Lerner—specifically, the first scene of each.

Pygmalion begins with a rainy day in London, just as My Fair Lady does, but its initial dialogue is lengthy and verbose, taking until the end of the second page of the play text to even introduce the female protagonist. “I’m getting chilled to the bone,” the daughter complains to her mother. “What can Freddy be doing all this time? He’s been gone twenty minutes” (Shaw 3). the mother and a bystander each have an extended discussion about the weather and the difficulty of finding a cab for two whole pages before the flower girl even enters. And when she does, she smacks into freddy but despite her fluster, her line takes its time: “Nah then, Freddy: look why’ y’ gowin, deah” (4). The lack of music in the straight play version allows for longer lines such as this.

In My Fair Lady, the pace is quickened dramatically—no pun intended. Rather than an extended discussion about the weather between the mother and daughter, the first one to speak is in fact eliza, and it’s regarding hers and freddy’s collision. “Aaaooowww!” she cries (Lerner 106). This much-simplified version of the dialogue almost seems rushed to a comical degree, but it serves an important purpose in the musical; where in a straight play the plot and conflict would be delivered solely through dialogue, the majority of those things in a musical is delivered through song. Therefore, the less revealed in lines of conversation and more revealed in the musical numbers is actually beneficial and is made with intention.

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