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When My Fair Lady debuted on Broadway on March 15, 1956, it made a star of 20-year-old Julie Andrews, kicked off what would become the longest theatrical run in the history of musical theater (at least for a while) and introduced Americans to some of the most quotable elocution lessons in history. The adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion would go on to rake in six Tony Awards and later be adapted into an Oscar-winning film with Audrey Hepburn in its central role.
When LIFE ran a photo essay of Leonard McCombe’s images of the musical, the magazine praised Andrews’ charming Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison’s exacting Henry Higgins. But the true star of the production it called “one of the finest American musicals in years” was “the Witty Shaw himself.” Though the playwright died six years before the adaptation premiered, “the spirit of Shaw,” LIFE wrote, “makes Fair Lady a Broadway event.”
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.