For Lauren Nielsen, it’s the role of a lifetime. It’s the kind of thing that these days is called one of her “bucket list” roles.
Nielsen is playing Eliza Doolittle in the upcoming Manatee Players production of “My Fair Lady.”
“It’s been a dream role for me ever since I was young,” said Nielsen, who’s still pretty young. “I always wanted to play Eliza. I’m a huge fan of the Golden Age-type of musical. I’m kind of set in my ways a little bit. But I love the role of Eliza, too. She gets to sing so much.”
Fans of musical theater may have different ideas of what constitutes the art form’s “Golden Age,” but the era of “My Fair Lady” certainly has to be considered an exceptional period. The Lerner and Loewe musical premiered in 1956, one year before “The Music Man” and three years before “The Sound of Music.” The American musical had been defined by groundbreaking shows that came before, and teams such as Lerner and Loewe were creating one classic show after another, based on a form of integrated musical that Rodgers and Hammerstein had pioneered.
“My Fair Lady,” as almost anyone who cares already knows, is based on the George Bernard Shaw play “Pygmalion.” The story involves a haughty London teacher of elocution who, on a bet, takes in a Cockney flower girl and tries to turn her into cultured society lady. He’s condescending to her at first, even disdainful, but ends up falling in love with her. The basic story line has become formulaic in plays and movies, including “The Owl and the Pussycat” and “Educating Rita.”
You’ve got this great story from the George Bernard Shaw play, and then you’ve got all these great songs. They’re so good, they’re so hummable.
The strength of the story is one aspect of “My Fair Lady” that has made it one of the handful of true classics of musical theater, said Steve Dawson, who’s directing the Manatee Players production.
“It’s just so good,” he said. “You’ve got this great story from the George Bernard Shaw play, and then you’ve got all these great songs. They’re so good, they’re so hummable. It’s one of the great American musicals, maybe the great American musical. It’s a wonderful experience to when you get to hear a small orchestra perform all these songs that everyone knows so well.”
It’s the kind of show, Dawson said, that almost everyone knows, even if they’ve never actually seen it. Songs such as “The Rain in Spain,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” — and many others — are integral parts of American culture. People know the songs even if they don’t know what show they came from.
Songs such as “The Rain in Spain,” “I Could Have danced All Night” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” — and many others — are integral parts of American culture. People know the songs even if they don’t know what show they came from.
For Neilsen, who’s in her first Manatee Players show, playing the title role in “My Fair Lady” has lived up to her expectations.
“It’s a great cast with a lot of people who haven’t done shows here before,” she said. “A lot of people who didn’t really know each other and hadn’t worked together, and we all come together. I came into thinking ‘Please let this be as great as I’ve always dreamed it would be,’ and it has been.”
Details: Sept. 22-Oct. 9, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $27-$37. 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.