Okay. Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews will always be the definitive Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolitle. But if there's one recording that might make you reconsider, it's this recording of the 20th Anniversary Broadway Revival. "Bravo" to Sony/BMG for this excellent, first-time-on-CD release.
Even though George Rose received a well-deserved Tony for his turn as Alfred P. Doolittle (his performance is truly remarkable), it is Ian Richardson and Christine Andreas who make this recording as special as it is. First of all, as wonderful as Julie Andrews was in the role of Eliza, her real-life personna was just a little too refined, too lady-like for me to truly believe her as a gutter snipe. Not so with Ms. Andreas. Her cockney may not be as good, but there is a degree of course-ness to her flower girl that makes her transformation really special. I wish I had been in the audience to experience the moment. Teetering betweeen two worlds, it's not jarring when Andreas/Eliza reverts to her former speech patterns during "Show Me" and "Without You." Very believable characterization.
Richardson's take on his character is a revelation. Yes, he's an upper-class snob, and yes, he sees himself superior to Eliza and everyone she represents, but he's also terribly conceited and honestly believes that he doesn't need anyone in his life. When he says, "Why can't a woman be like me," he truly believes it. Therefore, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" is a true cathartic moment for him, and I guarantee you'll get a lump in your throat - to match the on in Richardson's - when he delivers the final lines of the show: "Eliza? Where the devil are my slippers?" It's one of those magic moments every theater-goer prays for.
Added bonuses are Jerry Lanning's excellently sung Freddie, and an extremely well-played and beautifully-recorded "Embassy Waltz."
Masterworks/Broadway engineers have done a superlative job of remastering, achieving the same three-dimensional multi-layered effect as on THE KING AND I. Not only does it enable one to pick out individual instruments and follow each vocal or instrumental line, but it also helps us to appreciate better the outstanding Robert Russell Bennett & Phil Lang orchestrations and the choral arrangements by Gino Smart. Theodore Saidenberg's tempi are sometimes more brisk than Franz Allers', but everything works overall.
VERY highly recommended.
PS. If you want to hear another interesting version of MY FAIR LADY, I recommend the Original Israeli Cast recording. After all, they had " . . . to learn it backwards, which is absolutely frightening."