It all came together for Julian Holloway--with a little bit of luck.
Holloway, a British acting veteran of theater, film and "millions of voice-overs," and the son of actor Stanley Holloway, got together with a New York producer friend for dinner late last year. The actor, on resident alien status and newly moved from London to the San Fernando Valley with his wife, Debbie, and two children, Kate and Joel, anticipated a quiet, uneventful evening.
"But my friend mentioned that there were plans to revive 'My Fair Lady,' " Holloway recalls. "He urged me to try out for my old man's part." (The national tour, which began in April, opens tonight at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and is slated to arrive on Broadway in November.)
Memories of father Stanley, famed for his winningly dark and jaunty turn as Alfred P. Doolittle in both the 1956 Broadway premiere of the Alan J. Lerner-Frederick Loewe musical and George Cukor's 1964 film version, were lodged in the back of the son's mind. "But I said that it never would have occurred to me to take on Doolittle, and besides," adds Holloway, who turned 49 two weeks ago, "I wouldn't have thought that I was old enough.
"Over the next few days, I had a conversation with myself. The negative Julian said that this is encroaching on parental ground. The positive Julian said many actors have done it since, and it's a bloody good part."
The clincher, though, on deciding to go after the first stage role he's tackled in 15 years--and his first musical role ever--may have come from thinking about what Stanley might have felt: "I think he would be amused. He'd say, 'You cheeky little bugger!' "
Holloway won--no, he stresses, earned --the role in the touring production starring Richard Chamberlain as Prof. Henry Higgins and directed by Howard Davies. But in his characteristically embracing and frank manner--one of the first signs a visitor has that he is his father's son--he quickly adds that for the producing team of Barry and Fran Weissler and the Jujamcyn Theatres, having Holloway fils for the first major American "My Fair Lady" revival since the Rex Harrison edition in 1980 is an unqualified publicity bonus.
It's fairly ironic for an actor who had spent his career consciously walking a very different artistic path from his father, who died in 1982.
"He always wanted me to do musicals, but that was his territory," says Holloway. "By the time I left the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1963, youth had a voice on the English stage, with a whole heap of new writers like Harold Pinter and Arnold Wesker and John Osborne. It was time for grime and rough stuff in the theater, and musical comedy seemed irrelevant.
"I was in Christopher Hampton's first play, 'When Did You Last See My Mother?,' in which my character is kissed on the mouth by another man, and my father was appalled when he saw it. I told him that I was going to do this kind of work for a while, so don't feel as if you need to come," chuckles Holloway.
But now, it's turned full circle, with Holloway coming back to the musical comedy form his generation once despised. In 1976, he played Higgins in George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," on which "My Fair Lady" is based, "and I thought that I had this story out of my system. But this has come at a great time in my life, giving me a challenge I was ready to face head-on," Holloway says.
He'll tell you that the voice-over jobs bring in the cash, and that his recent TV appearances in the NBC miniseries "Grass Roots" and the ABC movie "Torch Song" are helping make him a recognizable face. But helping revive a musical comedy masterpiece that many believe has already enjoyed its definitive staging . . . well, as Holloway would term it, that's a whole other part of the country.
"Doing a revival is like renting an unfurnished house," he says. "They've moved their furniture out and you're moving yours in. You must play it as a new work, and make it play for a 1993 audience. Which it absolutely does. We played in Washington, D.C., for a month, and we could have carried on there for another two.
"Audiences, I think, are drawn into this show by a couple of things. First, there's the pertinence of the theme of not judging a person by the way they talk, which is what Higgins does with Eliza Doolittle (played by Melissa Errico), when he plucks her off the street and trains her in proper English. Second, children especially are enchanted by Eliza's Cinderella story. I've seen it on their faces."
Holloway had to fight off the wishes of daughter Kate, who wanted to catch the movie version when it happened to air on TV as February rehearsals neared. "I didn't want to get near it," he says. "I remember what happened when Moss Hart, who directed the original Broadway production, screened the Leslie Howard film version of 'Pygmalion' for the cast. My father was so intimidated by Wilfred Lawson's performance as Doolittle--he had this unforgettably funny and weird approach--that all he said to Hart afterward was 'Thanks a lot!'
"Still," Holloway insists, "the fact that one had a parent who created the role is neither here nor there. I see Doolittle as alcoholic, abusive, amoral, a scoundrel, willing to bargain for the price of his daughter--and despite all that, his character works and we end up loving him in tunes like 'With a Little Bit of Luck' and 'Get Me to the Church on Time.' He's both a scalawag and, in his own way, a great thinker."
But Holloway isn't about to reveal how he feels about this contradictory character. With a direct bluntness mixed with a grin that is clearly a Holloway tradition, the actor says that "explaining to anyone how one connects with one's role--the homework that goes on--is frankly nobody's business."