Songs from Musicals: #33, “On the Street Where You Live,” from My Fair Lady

Honorable mentions: “The Rain in Spain,” “With a Little Bit of Luck”

Times have changed, as we mentioned a few posts back, and one of the changes that I find most curious in our expectations for films is that everyone should be able to do everything for the parts they play. Remember when it came out that Natalie Portman probably didn’t dance all the ballet in Black Swan? Remember how mad people were about that, even though it would be incredible to expect an actor pushing thirty to all of a sudden become a convincing prima ballerina? And with a new musical coming out around Christmas just about every year now, we all scour the Internet to see if Russell Crowe or Chris Pine or Meryl Streep can handle the part they have to sing. But things didn’t use to be like that. It used to be the easiest thing in the world to dub Richard Beymer or Jeremy Brett; if we dubbed over James Corden or Eddie Redmayne, the movie would be charged with gross inauthenticity, and the reviews would doubtless mention that so-and-so didn’t actually sing her part, as if that really matters to the film as a whole. It would no doubt matter to the actors – Brett took credit for singing “On the Street Where You Live” for years – but people would, you’d think, enjoy the movie anyway.

The person who sings “On the Street Where You Live” in the 1964 version of My Fair Lady is Bill Shirley. Shirley is the Platonic ideal of the name on your iPod who you don’t recognize when you’re scrolling through Artists. If Shirley, who was a “ghost-singer” for years, is most famous for doing anything, it’s for voicing Philip in Sleeping Beauty, including the singing, which includes one of my all time favorite Disney songs, “Once Upon a Dream.”

Shirley’s voice is more or less the reason why “On the Street Where You Live” is here instead of a Stanley Holloway number (I love him; we all love him), or a song that more neatly encapsulates the wit that made My Fair Lady and Pygmalion popular in the first place. “On the Street Where You Live” is an almost comically easy song to sing; it relies on back vowels so much that it’s hard not to make it sound pretty. Shirley is allowed to backstroke into phrases like “Oh, the towering feeling” and “Can you hear a lark in any other part of town?” It’s a musical about making one’s English pretty, or at least aesthetic; it only makes sense that the lyrics should be framed in such a way to provide that kind of phonological pleasure for the listener.

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