Discover The Lost Musicals  July /August 1997

Barbican Cinema


Review by Emma Shane


For the third Lost Musical of this season Ian Marshall Fisher has presented us with a well and truly Lost Musical.  It has taken some years research to bring Flahooley back to life, as Dick Vosburgh mentioned in his pre show talk, which he concluded with a poem. The plot of this musical, by  Sammy Fain (best known for the score of  Calamity Jane) and Yip Harburg (Best known as the lyricist, on Wizard Of Oz), is basically about a Puppet-builder named Sylvester who invents the Flahooley Doll which laughs instead of cries. He also accidentally awakes a magic Arabian Genie, who does not understand capitalism, and so chaos ensues. The Genie is pursued, in a McCarthy style Witch Hunt, by, Elsa Bundshlager, a Witch, an excellent performance from Myra Sands, I particularly liked her Margaret Sullivan style melt (this was apparently a concert-staging addition, credited to Dick Vosburgh).

            There is also an Arab Princess, known as Princess Najla, who was played gracefully by Valda Avicks, and you have to admire her operatic vocal talents in Najla’s Lament, Najla’s song of Joy (amusingly subtitled Arabian for “Get Happy”) Najla’s Birdsong/Enchantment; although personally I am not over fond of too much highly classical singing in musicals.

            James Vaughan gave an unusually unemotional performance as an Arab emissary. Delivering such classic lines as “We will have to send an ambassador to Washington so that we can withdraw him”, with style, and coming into his comic own in Najla’s Birdsong/Enchantment.

            The original production contained several puppetry sequences, performed by Bill and Cora Baird’s troupe.  Although the company sang a very good rendition of You Too Can Be A Puppet, for this concert staging the puppetry segments were dispensed with. The Lost Musicals resident puppeteer was in the audience, rather than performing.

            Sylvester was to have been played by Dale Rapley. While it would have been delightful to have seen the latter gentleman in the role, I have to say that his replacement, Alan Cox was extremely good. He sang all the numbers very well and was pleasing to look at.

            As Sylvester’s girlfriend Sandy, who initially finds it very strange that Sylvester “talks to puppets”, Sian Reeves proved to be an excellent romantic lead, exactly the kind of performer suited to this sort of role. She sang her solos He’s only Wonderful and Come Back Little Genie, sweetly.  I doubt that her duet with Alan, Here’s To Your Illusions could have been better handled either. I certainly hope we see both of them in many more Lost Musicals.

            Melvyn Hayes portrayed the Genie, Abou Ben Atom’s mystification at capitalism, and human desires, well. He also evoked much sympathy for his character with his tender handling of The Springtime Cometh, sung to The Flahooley Doll herself, a sweet performance from young Kirstie Wilde, who seemed to have appeared from nowhere.

            Special mention must also be made of two other outstanding performances: Mandy More, as always, made the most of her part, B.G.Bigalow’s secretary K.T.Pettigrew. My only regret is that she did not get to sing any solos. B.G.Bigalow, a company director, who had so successfully out rivalled his competitors that he had to finance his own competitor, in order to have any competion, was played brilliantly as ever by Matt Zimmerman. A running joke throughout the show, is that he keeps discovering enterprises that he did not know he owned.

            The supporting company were: Stephen McCarthy, Zoe Ann Brown George Fitzgerald, Jane Lancaster, Gareth Owen, Steve Elias, Dominic Curtis, Josefina Gabrielle and Jacqueline Harben. The Musical Director was Mark  W. Dorrell, with Musical Reconstruction work by Mark Warman. All acquitted themselves well, with such interesting songs as: Who Says There Ain’t No Santa Claus, Flahooley, Jump Little Chillun, The World is Your Balloon, Spirit of Capsulanti, No More Flahooley’s and Christmas Song (Sing The Merry).

            My favourite number was Happy Hunting, a song which could be a postrunner to this composer’s earlier hit Deadwood Stage. This was a terrific piece of fun handled as only Myra Sands possibly could!

            I was also amused by the script, which contained a lot of in joke references to other musicals, like: Wizard Of Oz, ShowBoat, & South Pacific.

            By the end of the Show: Sandy and Sylvester are married, just before Christmas, the Genie is back in his lamp, which has been restored to the Arabs, and Sandy is totally reconciled to Sylvester talking to his puppets, she even does so herself.

            Perhaps the 1951 Flahooley got lost through being ahead of its time. Four years later NBC started broadcasting Sam and Friends and both puppetry and peoples perception of it was changed forever. Talking to puppets came to be viewed as something that could be done “as if it was the most natural thing in the world” to quote both Ethel Merman and Linda Lavin.




Off Site Links:

The Discover Lost Musicals Charitable TrustTM’s Official Site: http://www.lostmusicals.org/





| Return To Reviews |