ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
The best known of Harburg's socially conscious songs is "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime", from the Depression era revue, Americana. But while most other lyricists had a lukewarm dedication to social change and quickly reverted to romantic love songs after the Depression, Harburg's commitment to social justice never waned.
In 1951 he penned the satirical Christmas story Flahooley in response to his Hollywood blacklisting. The musical had a book by Harburg and Fred Saidy, and music by Sammy Fain. It had singing puppets and a great score, but its harsh political statement could not compete with The King and I, South Pacific and Kiss Me Kate. The show ran for only 40 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre.
The following year, a nonpolitical version of Flahooley, adapted by William Friml and Burton Lane and renamed Jollyanna, died at the San Francisco and Los Angeles Light Civic Operas. In 1998 the musical was revived at the Theatre At St. Clement's, with much of the material that had been excised from the original in out-of-town tryouts reinstated.
Fans of this little known but excellent show will be happy to know that it has once again been brought to stage, this time in a collaboration of Theater for the New City and The Harlem Repertory Theatre. It's been newly adapted by the Harlem Rep's Artistic Director Keith Lee Grant, who also directs and choreographs.
Flahooley is an allegorical musical tale set in the fictional Midwestern city of Capsulanti, headquarters of B.G. Bigelow, the largest toy manufacturing company in the world. Puppet designer Sylvester Cloud (John Wiethorn) has created a talking doll that he hopes will win him the recognition and monetary rewards that will allow him to marry his girlfriend, Sandy (Natalia Peguero, who hold her own in a role that gave Barbara Cook her Broadway debut). Company owner B.G. Bigelow (Daniel Fergus Tamulonis) believes the doll will be the big sensation of the season. Whether or not he will reward Sylvester is debatable.
While Bigelow is plotting his conquest of the toy world, an Arabian sheik (the delightful Primy Rivera), arrives. He beseeches Bigelow for help in repairing a magic lamp with which his kingdom hopes to bolster its oil industry against competition from atomic powers and Communist oppressors. When it turns out the doll can only say "dirty red, dirty red, dirty red" (on Broadway Harburg allowed "dirty red" to be replaced with laughing), the company is thrown into turmoil, which becomes chaos when the doll conjures the genie (Rivera) out of its lamp.
In this production Bill Baird's marionettes have been replaced by a collection of hand, rod and Bunraku puppets designed by Daniel Fergus Tamulonis. There are also cartoon-like productions that lighten, without distorting, the tone of the musical.
Though l this low budget production has little of the glitz that attracts Christmas tourists to Broadway, it is filled with enthusiasm, conviction and good fun. The lyrical "He's Only Wonderful," sung by the very capable Peguero, and the production number "Jump Chillun' Jump" are worthy of a bigger stage and audience. And all this at a ticket price of $18, $10 for students and seniors!