Almost half a century after Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn delighted audiences as Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, the recent Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan has apparently signed on to reprise the role of Eliza in this year's remake. At the helm of the project is the stage and screen veteran Emma Thompson, whose 1996 Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay (Sense and Sensibility) should calm the nerves of anyone wary of the remake tarnishing the reputation of the original.
My Fair Lady, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, was a resounding success both as a stage show and as the 1964 film, winning four Olivier Awards, seven Tony Awards, three Golden Globes and eight Oscars. Not bad for a story that revolves around pronunciation. Over the years there have been many other successful musical-to-movie transformations, with one of the most famous being Grease, which started life on stage in Chicago in 1971 before transferring to Broadway in 1972. A 1973 London run starred Richard Gere as Danny. The 1978 film version cemented John Travolta's career as a superstar, and gave Olivia Newton-John her first real taste of fame. Grease became the highest-grossing movie of 1978, and surpassed The Sound of Music (1965) to become the highest-grossing musical movie ever (a title which has since been broken by Mamma Mia!).
And who could forget Robert Wise's version of West Side Story? This re-working of Romeo and Juliet debuted on Broadway in 1957, and had also been performed in London's West End by the time the film became one of the biggest success stories of 1961. It holds the record for the most Oscar wins (10) for a musical movie, while the soundtrack holds the record for most weeks spent at the No 1 slot on the American Billboard - a mighty 54 in total.
The Sound of Music won multiple Tony Awards and was performed in New York, London and Melbourne before the 1965 film, also directed by Wise, was released. Taking into account inflation, it is the third-highest-grossing picture of all time, and is credited as the saviour of 20th Century Fox after low returns on Cleopatra (1963) almost bankrupted it. The movie's world-famous soundtrack also marked the last collaboration between the famed song writing duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.
Four more of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most acclaimed musicals were turned into hugely popular movies. Oklahoma! was the first of their works to get the silver-screen treatment, and received two Academy Awards in 1955 for Best Music and Scoring of a Musical Picture. The film starred Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, who also went on to star in Carousel a year later. Carousel was considered a box-office flop when it was released, being only one of two Rodgers and Hammerstein adaptations not to get nominated at the Oscars. But despite the initial lack of support surrounding the movie, it has gone on to achieve success through DVD sales.
South Pacific topped the box office in 1958, and songs like I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair and Happy Talk helped to keep the soundtrack atop the UK charts for 115 weeks in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The second-to-last Rodgers and Hammerstein production to make it to the big screen, The King and I (1956), won five of the Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Actor for Yul Brynner.
In 1968, the film version of Oliver! hit screens, starring Ron Moody (who had played Fagin in the original stage show) as Fagin, Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes, Mark Lester as Oliver and Shani Wallis as Nancy. Oliver! has gone on to become one of the most famous movies of all time (who among us hasn't heard or recited the line, "Please sir, can I have some more"?), and won its director, Carol Reed, the Best Picture and Best Director statuettes at the 1968 Oscars ceremony.
Oliver! marked the end of the "golden age" of musical movies in Hollywood, with several flops, such as Camelot (1967), Hello Dolly! (1969) and Mame (1974), crippling major Hollywood studios. However, when Evita, based on the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber show of the same name, hit movie screens in 1996, the genre started to make a long-awaited return. Since then musical movies have come back fighting with Chicago (2002), Dreamgirls (2006), Hairspray (2007), Sweeney Todd (2007) and Mamma Mia! (2008) all going on to achieve exceedingly good results worldwide.
The My Fair Lady remake won't be the last of the current crop. With the Precious director Lee Daniels reported to be directing an upcoming film adaptation of Miss Saigon, and Tom Hanks reportedly working on a film version of the stage adaptation of Green Day's American Idiot album, the revival of the musical film looks set to go from strength to strength.