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Half Success, Half Failure in Korean My Fair Lady

2008/08/29 | Permalink | Source

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By Chung Ah-young
Staff Reporter

It took about 52 years for musical "My Fair Lady", which premiered in Broadway in 1956, to make its way to the overheated local musical scene eager for proven foreign licensed works.

Why did it take so long to put such a reputed classic on stage in local theaters?

It might be because of the language difference. Unlike other musicals, "My Fair Lady" is difficult to capture its original style and intentions if translated into Korean as the story puts much emphasis on the process of speech lessons and the improvement of English pronunciation.

Despite the worries, the Korean version of "My Fair Lady" managed to pass the hardest test in the scenes of Eliza taking speech lessons from Higgins.

The musical used English phrases without Korean translation in the speech tutoring scene endlessly repeating phrases like "In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen" to demonstrate that "H"s must be aspirated.

But it translated the phrase of "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain" to practice the "long a" phoneme into Korean, something hard to understand why.

But it was a big success when Korean slang and dialects were used to portray Eliza's conversation revealing her vulgar Cockney attitude and slang in the scene of her first public tryout at Ascot Racecourse. This made the audience burst into laughter.

The musical, which opened Aug. 22 at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, begins when Eliza, a flower girl, accidentally encounters Higgins on a London street. Eliza drops her flowers after bumping into a guy. She gets angry and yells abuse at the man, while Higgins writes down what she says.

Higgins studies phonetics and is able to discern people's origins just by their accent. He laments Eliza's dreadful diction and suggests she learn decent pronunciation.

From that moment, Higgins makes a bet with another linguist, Colonel Pickering, that he can successfully pass off the Cockney flower girl into a refined lady by teaching her to speak properly.

Veteran actress Kim So-hyun-I reaffirmed her talents both in singing and acting to portray Eliza.

However, it was a miscast for actor Lee Hyung-chul for the role of Henry Higgins, an arrogant professor of phonetics. His singing and acting was totally unbearable as a whole.

Lee seemed almost tone-deaf, awkwardly shouting the lyrics instead of singing in some scenes. Also, he failed to convey accurate pronunciations properly even though his role was a phonetics professor.

Also, it was disappointing for the audience as unparalleled songstress Yoon Bok-hee as Mrs. Higgins didn't even sing a song as there are fewer songs in the musical.

But Kim Sung-gi, who performed the role of Alfred Doolittle, was a key player, breaking the boredom of the musical with his comic character.

"My Fair Lady" is based upon George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion", with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The show's 1956 Broadway production was a smash hit and has set the record for the longest run of any major theater production in history.

The Academy Award-winning 1964 film starred Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn.

The musical won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1956.

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