Stanley Holloway was an iconic Alfred P. Doolittle in both the 1956 Broadway musical and the 1964 Hollywood adaptation, the former winning the Tony for Best Musical and the latter winning the Oscar for Best Picture.
Now, actor Michael Hegarty dons the famous London top hat to “get us to the church on time” in Lincoln Center’s North American Tour of “My Fair Lady,” playing National Theatre in D.C. this Thursday through Sunday.
“The biggest star of the show is the costumes, which won the Tony,” Hegarty told WTOP. “They do a beautiful job with the set, the lighting. (Director Bartlett Sher) is very famous for working with specific set designers to come up with a look that is both impressionistic and realistic. Higgins’ house is very realistic-looking, but a lot of the other stuff is impressionistic where you see just a part of a house or building that almost looks like a painting.”
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play “Pygmalion,” the story follows Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl in Edwardian London who takes speech lessons from a rigid phonetician, Professor Henry Higgins, so that she may pass as a “proper lady.” Along the way, Eliza passes some money to her jovial, drunken father, Alfred P. Doolittle.
“He works just enough to keep himself out of jail and give himself money to go to the pub,” Hegarty said. “When we first meet him he’s coming out of the pub having spent all of his money and being thrown out. He’s immediately looking for money when his daughter comes along, who has just come into money from Professor Higgins. That’s where we meet him: he’s dirty, he’s scruffy, but he’s also a talker, a philosopher and lives by a very strict code.”
Hegarty gets to perform two major musical numbers starting with “With a Little Bit of Luck.”
“In the movie, I think they combined it all into one song, but in the play, it’s sung in two different scenes,” Hegarty said. “It’s him saying life can be hard and life can throw things in your way, but with a little bit of luck, you can get around that stuff. With a little bit of luck, you’ll never work because someone else will do it for you … It’s all luck.”
Of course, his most memorable number is “Get Me to the Church on Time,” which comes after newfound wealth.
“He’s kind of a victim of Higgins in that he’s now cursed with money and he’s not happy about it,” Hegarty said. “He now has no excuse not to get married to Eliza’s ‘stepmother,’ he now has to make a respectable woman of her, so ‘Get Me to the Church on Time’ is kind of his bachelor party. The way that it’s staged, it’s definitely a party, a lot of drinking, dancing, can-can girls and all kinds of stuff, but the undertone is that this guy is going off to his death.”
The Lerner-and-Loewe songbook is iconic, from “Rain in Spain” to “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
“The number that gets the biggest applause is ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ — our actress who plays Eliza just sings her face off,” Hegarty said. “Another song a lot of people are going to know because it was on the radio all the time back in the day is ‘On the Street Where You Live.’ … My favorite is ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,’ which is Eliza’s first song in the show before she becomes a ‘lady,’ she’s just a flower girl hanging out … around a fire in a barrel.”