Where is Love? Or whatever happened to My Fair Lady

Many moons ago, I had the good fortune to direct Oliver, one of musical theatre’s most famous shows complete with a full orchestra at Arts Centre on the Gold Coast. The theatre held a thousand bums comfortably, and the song Where is Love was shared through the run by two young child actors. Both delightful, both different. I loved the experience. (See publicity shot for Oliver with the boys and Mr Movies, Bill Collins) Working with kids proved to be more enjoyable than I had expected. I came to the gig prepared for the worst, but found myself really enjoying working with the naughty kids, the ones the child minders were always yelling at. They got me as a director. And, I got them too. It was great fun. I often invented extra direction for the naughty kids which they excelled at. But, that’s not the point…

I remember, every night the audience would sit and wait for young Oliver to stand gaze out the window, up at the sky and sing.. “Where is love, Does it fall from skies above? Is it underneath the willow tree, That I’ve been dreaming of?” Oliver is singing for his mother, who is lost to him…and his moving lament always proved to be a favourite for bleached-tanned Gold Coast mums. Love is the reason, I think, musicals continue to draw large audiences today. While most straight drama struggles, (maybe not the MTC) musicals about love continue to pull a crowd, audiences just can’t get enough of it.

Of course, there are many types of love but the stories about the struggle to find it, hold it and keep it tight and safe, they are the ones that still bring us to our knees. Let’s look at the King and I? What’s it about? The musical the King and I was based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s.

It’s plot relates the experiences a British schoolteacher hired as part of the King’s drive to modernize his country. The King and schoolteacher relationship is rocky to say the least (I’ve had a few exactly like it) and they both struggle with their attraction for each other. They fight continuously…But, it still about love, right?. In many ways, a similar relationship is set up in both the stage and film version of My Fair Lady. Let’s talk about the film, because it’s got Audrey Hepburn in it…I have a thing for her…it’s an Anderson thing!

Anyway, the Lerner and Lowe’s musical My Fair Lady won eight Academy Awards, and Audrey played Eliza Dolittle, one of the most famous female roles in musical history. Who can forget the moment when Henry Higgins finally realizes that he has grown accustomed to Eliza’s annoying face. Would we still be talking about Audrey and My Fair Lady years later if Henry Higgins realized he in fact couldn’t stand the sight of the bitch and wished her to hell! No, I don’t think we’d be talking about that storyline at all. Back to my show…Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets is a musical about love, Liz O’Sullivan’s (our main character) struggle to love herself, in a world that has shut off from her…and the struggle to find a real man and lasting loving relationship. Are we all like Liz? Is this the dream of every musical theatre lover has? It occurred to me, when drawing together the work of all 4 writers, myself included, into a final draft of Audrey and I, that we are all frightened to make mistakes when it comes to affairs of the heart… and sometimes that fear of love, choosing the wrong one, a loser or black sheep, holds us back, keeping us away from the very thing we’ve longed for the most in the first place.

As a director, it’s often one of the things I ask an actor to tell about the character they are playing. What does this character fear? Fear can drive a character just as far as love can. In life and on stage I guess.

Oh, I’ve gotten so deep… so quickly, sorry. It’s very late as I write, I have put the kettle on, got the skim milk from the fridge, flicked through my phone messages… and for a brief moment, glanced out my kitchen window just as the kettle boiled over, and I again think about love… Where is love? Where can she be today? Today, a time when both women and children still need protecting. Sometimes he’s a hard God, right? Then I think, would the original composer of Oliver, Lional Bart… would he write the song Where is Love differently if he lived now. I don’t know. Of course, as a writer I love to tell stories… Often about love. I directed a play about love set in Melbourne called A Fitzroy Romance. As a director, I love to entertain…

I hope to do both with Audrey Hepburn and I… But, more important, I want to bring the audience a show with the themes they love to pay to see… Because I believe in the one thing musical theatre shows has sold for decades, along with the taste of popcorn of course, I believe the world loves, love. Oh yes, and music… Love and music is all there is! Howdy Melbourne. G’day Australia. Checkout the love Ballard: Not A Day Goes By