Performing Arts

(Soundbite of musical, "My Fair Lady")

Ms. JULIE ANDREWS (Actress): (As Eliza Doolittle) The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain?


After today's matinee at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, Britain's National Theater Company packs its trunks and heads for Chicago. The company's American tour of "My Fair Lady" began last fall in Florida and will end this summer in Arizona. This show has a lot of mileage on it.

(Soundbite of musical, "My Fair Lady")

Mr. REX HARRISON (Actor): (As Professor Henry Higgins) (Singing) By George, she's got it. By George, she's got it. Now, once again where does it rain?

Ms. ANDREWS: (As Eliza Doolittle) (Singing) On the plain. On the plain.

Mr. HARRISON: (As Professor Henry Higgins) (Singing) And where's that soggy plane?

Ms. ANDREWS: (As Eliza Doolittle) (Singing) In Spain. In Spain.

Mr. HARRISON: (As Professor Henry Higgins) (Singing) The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. Ha, ha. The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. In Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire…

HANSEN: In 1956, when "My Fair Lady" opened at the Mark Hellinger's Theater in New York, Julie Andrews played Eliza.

(Soundbite of musical, "My Fair Lady")

Ms. ANDREWS: (As Eliza Doolittle) (Singing) How kind of you to let me come.

Mr. HARRISON: (As Professor Henry Higgins) (Singing) Now once again, where does it rain?

Ms. ANDREWS: (As Eliza Doolittle) (Singing) On the plain. On the plain.

Mr. HARRISON: (As Professor Henry Higgins) (Singing) And where's that blasted plain?

Ms. ANDREWS: (As Eliza Doolittle) (Singing) In Spain. In Spain.

Mr. HARRISON: (As Professor Henry Higgins) (Singing) The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. Bravo.

HANSEN: Sally Ann Howes took over the lead role of Eliza in 1958, best known as Truly Scrumptious from the movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," Howes is a film and stage veteran.

Ms. SALLY ANN HOWES (Actress): In fact it's 50 years since I played Eliza. And I have many, many memories of Moss Hart, who has directed it. And he was a brilliant, brilliant director and a very important name in theater. And of course, it brought back my very close relationship with Alan and Fritz Loewe - Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

(Soundbite of musical, "My Fair Lady")

Ms. HOWES (Actress): (Mrs. Higgins) Remember, last night, you not only danced with the prince but you behave like a princess.

Unidentified Man (Actor): (As Professor Henry Higgins) Mother, (unintelligible) you.

Ms. HOWES: (Mrs. Higgins) How do you do?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Sally Ann Howes has now logged some 150 performances as Professor Higgins' mother on this tour. Today's matinee at the Kennedy Center is her last.

(Soundbite of musical, "My Fair Lady")

Ms. HOWES: (Mrs. Higgins) Professor Higgins, are you quite well?

Unidentified Man: (As Professor Henry Higgins) I'm all right.

Ms. HOWES: (Mrs. Higgins) Of course you are. You are never ill. Would care for some tea?

Unidentified Man: (As Professor Henry Higgins) Don't you try that game on me, I taught it to you. Now get up and come home and don't be a fool. You already caused enough trouble for one morning.

Ms. HOWES: (Mrs. Higgins) Oh, very nicely put indeed, Henry. No woman could resist such an invitation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOWES: Oh, my father is comedian so I am totally hooked on getting as many laughs as I can. And I've really enjoyed, sort of, wheeling out all her witty bits.

HANSEN: Have you created a back story for this, Mrs. Higgins?

Ms. HOWES: Of course.

HANSEN: Oh, what is her story?

Ms. HOWES: Of course, yes. Well, she's got one truculent son, right? Rather spoiled. Professor Higgins. And she was poor gentry, I think, you know good education as much as you could get in those days, elegant family and all the rest of it. Married a man in the industry and was left a lot of money. He died. We got rid on him really rather quickly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOWES: And then, really, basically, if she had been a generation or two before, she would have been a suffragette at this time, but of course she isn't. And therefore, she recognizes the freedom and the future in Eliza.

(Soundbite of movie, "My Fair Lady")

Ms. MARNI NIXON (Actress; Singing Voice of Audrey Hepburn): (As Eliza Doolittle) I could have danced all night. I could have danced all night. And still have begged for more. I could have spread my wings and done a thousand things I've never done before.

HANSEN: When the 1964 film version of "My Fair Lady" opened, audiences saw Audrey Hepburn and heard her speak Eliza's line but Marni Nixon sang the role — as she did for many Hollywood musicals. Now she's getting ready to play Mrs. Higgins when the show opens Tuesday in Chicago. But something is missing.

Ms. NIXON: She has no songs. She has no songs.

HANSEN: You were watching the performance during the matinee. When you watched the scene that you know you're going to be playing soon, what runs through your mind?

Ms. NIXON: My lines, the physicality. You can imagine yourself on stage but it's about the backstage, the beehive of places and little things that you have to walk around and be careful of and get to the right side of the stage so you can get there on time with this - this set is very complicated.

Ms. HOWES: I've just been taking her around, you know, the back and telling her where not to trip and watched out for this. No, we haven't discussed it at all. This - and there's no, we probably won't, you know.

HANSEN: Because it's going to be two separate characters.

Ms. HOWES: Well, she's got to make it her.

HANSEN: Sure. Sure. But…

Ms. HOWES: And, you know, we're very different. First of all, I'm about 4 feet taller than - Marni is absolutely tiny - tiny little thing.

Ms. NIXON: True enough.

Ms. HOWES: And I'm big.

HANSEN: Where do you go next?

Ms. HOWES: I should go back to retirement.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: While Sally Ann Howes can begin to relax Marni Nixon is a little anxious about putting on Mrs. Higgins' lavender gown and tiara.

Ms. NIXON: I'm at the stage at this moment being terrified of not enough rehearsal and, oh, my gosh, what if I forget a line or I did this and I stumble here or blah, blah, blah. But that always happens.

HANSEN: After all these years, that hasn't change?

Ms. NIXON: Always. It gets worse. I think when you're younger you just don't know what can happen.

HANSEN: You're at the beginning of a long road trip.

Ms. NIXON: Yes. And I've never been on a tour like this.

HANSEN: Never before.

Ms. NIXON: No.

HANSEN: Never?

Ms. NIXON: Never. Even in…

HANSEN: In all your years.

Ms. NIXON: …younger days I've never been out this long, not on a show like this for this length of time ever. It's kind of interesting. I feel like I'm going back to my beginnings or something.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Marni Nixon takes on the part of Mrs. Higgins when the British National Theater Company's touring production of "My Fair Lady" opens Tuesday in Chicago. She inherits the role from Sally Ann Howes, who gives her final performance at the Kennedy Center today.

You can hear more of our interview, including what Mrs. Higgins really thinks about entertaining a Cockney flower girl at Ascot at

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