My Fair Lady was the first real musical comedy I ever saw performed live on a stage. This is discounting a couple of "kiddy theater"
productions I saw at an earlier age which failed to entertain me or, insofar as I could tell, anyone else on the premises. I remember a
probably-unauthorized musical version of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins I saw when I was around seven that was so low-budget, they were
short 499 pieces of headwear. A lady was playing Bartholomew and she kept doing inept sleight-of-hand to make it appear as if new chapeaus were
magically appearing on her head, but she didn't fool anyone. We all knew she wasn't a boy and that it was the same hat, over and over and over.
A few other such plays failed to get me interested in theater. Fortunately though in 1959 or maybe 1960 — I would have been seven or eight
at the time — my mother took me to see the touring company of My Fair Lady at the Biltmore Theater in downtown Los Angeles. A gentleman
named Michael Evans, who spent much of his career playing Henry Higgins in various productions, played Henry Higgins, and I have no idea who else was
in the cast. I kept the program book, which I remember as having the "generic" Hirschfeld drawing (as opposed to the original Broadway one in which
Higgins was clearly Rex Harrison) but I have mislaid it for about the past thirty-five years. Anyway, I'll tell you what I remember of the
experience. I remember my mother briefing me for days about what I was going to see, explaining and perhaps over-explaining the story. I also
remember going there with a certain familiarity with the songs, inasmuch as my folks played the cast album over and over and over. I still own their
copy of that record and it's a wonder you can even get a sound out of the thing today, so worn down are the grooves. I remember getting dressed up
for the event and I remember my father, for God knows what reason, dropping us off at the theater and picking us up later, rather than coming in with
us. Most of all though, I remember The Orange Drink.
At the time, it was apparently quite customary for legit theaters to sell orange drink at intermission. I assume they had alcohol and soft drinks,
but one could also purchase a certain orange-hued beverage that they all sold — or at least, they sold it at the Biltmore. For days before we
attended, my mother not only told me about the show but explained that at intermission, she would buy me this terrific orange drink. I realize now
she was very worried that I would find My Fair Lady an utter bore but she figured, I guess, that I would at least enjoy the orange drink. At
least, I heard so much about it that I began thinking, "This must be some orange drink" and presuming that it was so special, you could only
get it if you sat through an entire musical comedy.
Our seats were high in a balcony, several kilometers from the stage and all the way on the left. I sat there in my suit and tie all through the
first act, trading off with my mother on using a pair of very old binoculars she owned. I enjoyed the show a lot but my mind kept drifting to
thoughts of the wonderful orange drink I would be savoring at intermission. When intermission finally came, my mother took me out to the lobby and
bought me a small carton, like a milk carton, of what turned out to be a pretty mediocre orange drink. It was very much like Kool-Aid — sugared
water with artificial coloring and flavor, and I didn't particularly want to drink it but, figuring it was part of the ritual of the theater, I did.
For all I knew, the second act couldn't start until every child in the place finished his or her orange drink.
As it turned out, I liked the show a lot more than the orange drink. And it's funny what you remember from an experience like that. I remember the
"Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" number with the buskers pushing Liza around stage on a flower cart and whistling. I remember Alfred Doolittle and three
other characters singing, "With a Little Bit of Luck." I remember Doolittle doing, "Get Me to the Church on Time." And I remember absolutely nothing
else of the show. In the latter number, I vividly recall Doolittle in his tuxedo saying goodbye to someone. He did an elaborate gesture of removing
one of his gloves so he could shake hands. Then he shook with the still-gloved hand. Then he put the glove back on the hand from which he'd removed
it. Big laugh.
It all added up to my first real memory of the theater. It was many years after that I began attending on an even semi-regular basis but when I
did, something connected with that first experience. First time I took in a show on Broadway, I found myself flashing back to that balcony at the
Biltmore and thinking, "This is the same wonderful experience." Maybe it was even better. On Broadway, they don't make you drink the rotten orange