Posts Tagged ‘sadler’s wells’

Review – Akram Khan’s Giselle – English National Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

November 16, 2016

There is nothing like a sold out show to get me into a complete ticket buying frenzy. I’d kind of ignored the emails English National Ballet had been sending me about their new version of Giselle: what can I say, I was out of work for two months and tickets to Sadlers Wells were not on the list of things to buy with my limited funds. (This despite the fact that their ticket pricing structure is extremely kind especially to the unemployed.) And, well, ENB just isn’t that exciting to me in general. But it got closer to the time and I thought, hey, Giselle, that’s my favorite ballet, why don’t I make the attempt? And then GASP it was sold out. And so for three weeks I set poised with my computer browser set to the Sadler’s ticket buying page. Even after it was announced that it would be returning in 2017, I still wanted to go NOW, when it was all fresh and hot and juicy, and not wait for a whole ‘nother year. Yummy fresh ballet! I had quite a balancing act to pull off though because I had to fit in a time to see the new Wayne MacGregor at the Royal Ballet as well … so there I was yesterday STANDING IN LINE at Sadler’s at 6:45 hoping some person would fail to show up for their date and said date would hand over their ticket in eager anticipation of getting a little bit of money back (as Sadler’s will refund tickets if they are sold on – once again proving how wonderful they are). And POW I finally got one, back of the stalls for £38.

And, wow, what an utterly powerful and deeply creepy version of Giselle this was. Are you familiar with the normal plot? Prince (Albrecht) goes to a random (possibly eastern European) small town, woos innocent young girl (Giselle – Tamara Rojo) with a heart condition, makes her local beau Hilarion jealous, then gets in a bit of a situation as his family (the local king and queen or duke and duchess) show up, while hunting, along with his fiancee. Giselle is initially enchanted by the party of richies, especially the queen (and her clothing), and does a little dance for them to entertain them (because she’s just a lowly peasant after all), for which she receives a necklace in thanks. But then Hilarion blows Albrecht’s cover, forcing Albrecht to publicly show Giselle that his loyalties are actually with the nobility and his love is pledged to another (Bathilde). This causes Giselle to go mad; she does a dance and then dies of a heart attack (or stabs herself depending on the versions). Albrecht is very sad; so sad that in the next scene we see him at Giselle’s grave. She is buried in unconsecrated ground, and SURPRISE she has been recruited to join a band of evil fairies, the “Wilis,” who hunt down young men and kill them. (Wilis are the spirits of girls who died of broken hearts.) Hilarion is also sad and goes to Giselle’s grave only SURPRISE he gets captured by the Wilis and is forced to dance to his death. The queen of the Wilis then tries to get Giselle to join in killing Albrecht, which she should do as he’s directly responsible for her being dead, but unfortunately Giselle is as stupid in death as in life and instead saves Albrecht, thus losing her chance to live forever as a Wili. It’s hard to decide if this is a sad or happy ending but overall it’s a tremendously satisfying story.

SO: we have a NEW version of the ballet, which has taken some characters from the original and about five minutes of the music and dropped it into the tremendously powerful framework of this highly emotive production. I didn’t buy a program, so I’ll tell you what I thought was going on; some key moments were changed (or excised), so we are presented a much more original story that I felt was influenced both by modern fantasy drama (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones) with a good solid sploosh of Japanese horror sloshed on top. Maybe the intent of the choreographer was NOT to change things in the ways I saw; but it was still a strong story which held the following elements intact: a love triangle, an independent heroine who is betrayed by her love, and death dealing fairies. The rest of it, well, to say it “diverged” was fair; but like good Shakespeare, a good ballet and its characters transcends one choreographer’s interpretation.

In a village somewhere, villagers, men and women, are dancing in front of a looming wall. The dancers’ moment is tribal rather than classical; the men spin and leap (and do backflips). Everything seems to have an air of gloom. These people are poor, and they seemed trapped somehow. One woman stands out amongst them, in part because two men are fighting over her affection. One seems devoted and protective; the other, arrogant.

Out of nowhere a ram’s horn sounds. The effect is eerie, otherworldly: the dancing stop. It is the call of the Wild Hunt. Suddenly, the wall behind the villagers begins to tilt and light flows from underneath it. A crack is forming between the worlds, and the immortal members of the Court of the Fae have chosen to walk out into the land of mortals. We see them, in their elaborate gowns, head dresses, damasks, and lace, silhouetted behind, and yet above, the shabby villagers. They are clearly above their petty concerns. One woman in the group stands out, in her body conscious top more Cretan goddess than human nobility; Giselle is fascinated by her clothing but refuses the glove the woman drops at her feet. Then one of her lovers returns … seemingly Albrecht, the member of the tribe of priveleged people, for he goes around attempting to make all of the villagers bow to the strange creatures. Giselle refuses, and the gentler man rushes to her defence, triggering a battle with Albrecht which Giselle attempts to break up. In the end Albrecht loses, and is stolen away by Bathilde, who seems to have enchanted him. His fate looks to be about as kind as that as the male of the Black Widow spiders when caught by a female member of their species. The Fae depart with their prey, and with Albrecht.

In the next scene, a long haired, blonde supernatural straight out of KwaiDan appears, a veil covering her face and a long slim stick in her hands. She is clearly Myrtha, queen of the Wilis. She looks to want to be taking Giselle to be one of her minions. But then Albrecht appears, and in a violent rage chokes Giselle to death. This prompts the rest of the evil fairies to come out of the darkness with their sticks and herd him into a small circle; then, finally, they kill him, hoisting him overhead like a village sacrifice. It is primal and frightening.

And, as it is the nature of this story, the kind and loving boyfriend shows up. Giselle loves him but as she is a ghost now he doesn’t seem to be able to touch her any more; still, she swoons in his presence. And when Myrtha give the order to kill, she refuses, somehow managing to protect him from the lesser fairies; eventually, it becomes a battle of the wills between Murtha and Giselle, and Giselle wins, driving Myrtha off of her toes, leaving her flat footed. Doing this, Giselle has given up her chance to live forever, but she has kept her ability to make choices about her own actions intact. She is incredibly powerful. As the act ends, we shiver at the naked power she has displayed; to stand against the supernatural at any cost, even beyond death. And with that, she is gone.

Now, I’ve probably got some things wrong because the diversion from the original story seems unlikely to have happened in the way I saw it … Giselle dies after Myrtha shows up? Albrecht is her true love? … but this is how it read to me. And I liked it. The dancing was not very balletic but the Wilis used their toes well to express their otherworldliness and the men were given the opportunity to really show off (although not as much as in a traditional Giselle where the two guys have to “dance to the death” for Myrtha). Frankly I found this an incredibly compelling tale of the supernatural and I enjoyed it a lot. Thank goodness it’s coming back – it deserves to be seen again and again.

(This review is for the opening night performance at Sadler’s Wells, which took place on Tuesday, November 14, 2016. It continues through Saturday night but returns in 2017.)

Advertisements

Preview – Hofesh Shechter Festival #hofest and Review – Barbarians – Sadlers Wells

September 22, 2015

I’ve been watching Hofesh Shechter since he first burst onto the stage in the Linbury Studio in 2006 with “Uprising.” It blew me out of my seat – for once, I was seeing a wholly masculine approach to dance that felt uncontaminated by balletic vocabulary – dancing suitable for soldiers, for football players, for the wonderful athletes that male dancers are. It felt like I was getting a little window into how men act with each other when they’re not competing for women (or fighting off wizards) – it was a natural, grown moment that felt completely at ease with itself, like two grown men playwrestling and laughing.

Now it’s nearly 10 years later, and we have the good luck of an entire festival of Shecter’s work in London. It looks like a chance to see to what heights he can soar – or, possibly, where the limitations are on his current capability. There’s certainly no limit to its scope, which would be challenging to any choreographer. It started with a new work at Sadler’s Wells – Barbarians, which opened Friday, September 18th – and ends with a revisit of Political Mother (which I saw in 2010), being staged rather daringly in Brixton at the O2. In between, he’s hitting the bread-and-butter – a restaging of two old works (“Cult” and “Fragments”) as well as one new – done by his youth company at an East London location – and also shooting for the stars with a slot at the Royal Opera House for the opera Oprheus and Euridice (by Gluck).

Now, picture me, people. Baroque music is my little embarrassing fandom I tend to live in by myself, amidst the flock of silver haired regulars. I don’t see them at rock music dance shows (except for poor old Clement Crisp); they ignore me when I’m getting my viola da gamba groove on. But I was going to get BOTH at the SAME TIME in one show. You know I went and got a ticket as soon as I found out. Awesome baroque opera slamming face to face with a fully bad assed, in the now, ultra modern choreographer? It’s the kind of thing that makes me go LIVING IN LONDON IS AWESOME!

Meanwhile, I’ve been to Barbarians (thanks to a kindly invite from a publicist) and my thought is: it’s a bit of a work in progress, and it’s not surprising that it would be given that Mr Shechter is probably just a little bit busy right now, and in this case, if I had “Sadlers Wells where everyone loves me” versus “Royal Opera I need to prove myself this isn’t entirely my comfort zone and the world is watching,” well, I’d be making sure that I kicked ass for the opera. It’s in three parts, which look like 1) the ones where the people wear white, a computer voice talks to them, and for some reason the music of Marin Marais plays between more crunchy stuff – 2) the part where people wear gold and talk to the audience – 3) the bit where it’s a bit of a male/female duet, the man wearing lederhosen. There’s some existential stuff where the computer voice talks to Shechter, giving him an opportunity to say that he’s choreographing a mid-life crisis – gold lame body suits being perfect for this – and beautiful moments where bodies gleam in the (asthma-attack inducing) smoke. The lights are always impeccable, the sound design is perfect (if too loud) … but the dance to me felt flabby and in need of cutting. Also, I consider both flashing lights in the audience’s eyes and dancers speaking to be shorthand that says, “I need to impress you but I have run out of ideas, so I will blind you and then I will have people talk to you because I wasn’t able to say what I wanted to in movement.” I’m okay being confused or needing to think about what I’ve seen, but I hate very much having things literally explained to me. Unless it involves strange curses and possibly wizards, in which case it just might be necessary.

Anyway, there’s three more events happening in this season, and I consider it all a tremendous chance to catch up with and enjoy one of the best choreographers out there. See what you’ve missed, catch where he is aspiring to, see if he makes it – if nothing else, I promise it won’t be boring.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, September 18, 2015. Barbarians continues through Friday, September 25th.

Review – Around the World – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells (then to Mint Theater New York)

November 2, 2013

What? You say Orson Welles and Cole Porter wrote a musical together? How is it we have never heard of it! Well, per the folks that put on Lost Musicals, the original production was so expensive – with a cast of seventy, movies, and a nicely realized circus midway through – that it only made it for seventy-five performances. It never made it to London, its sets were burned, and it appears there was just not much left besides the script and the songs. And there it sat until the 90s! For me, it was like a GIANT PILE OF CASH that for some odd reason had been left sitting in the middle of the street for fifty years. WHY? Did Porter suck? Was the plot no longer conceivable in the, er, post-atomic world? (Not likely as it debuted in 1946.)

As reassembled by Ian Marshall Fisher, Around the World is a show with some really great songs, lively performances, and – it has to be said – a bit of a gap in the storyline. How does Phileas Fogg (David Firth) get from Hong Kong to California? How did his American manservant Passepartout (Lance Fuller) reunite with his Oirish girlfriend Molly (Rebekah Hinds)? The running time was still a substantial (near) three hours, but perhaps a little more exposition was called for. (Apparently in the Pacific gap, Wells had a Yokohaman circus …. somewhat beyond the budget of this performance but fun to imagine.)

The songs, though, are just really great, if occasionally shockingly racist. I had a pretty hard time stomaching “Missus Aouda” – a comic song about suttee. It was just black, black, black, but on the peformers carried! Truth be told, there were only nine songs in total, all witty in the Porter style, but my how sensibilities have changed. I enjoyed greatly the outrageous policemen (Michael Roberts and James Vauight, I believe), with their choreographed bouncing and twitching, but when we had Egyptians who were all dishonest and smelled, and a Chinese woman who was, of course, selling opium while waving her fan and acting completely “inscrutable” – was this really acceptable 70 years ago? I’ll say that the Americans and British were also mocked, but we (Americans) were only portrayed as ignorant, not subhuman. It just all left me flabbergasted.

That said, there was still lots to enjoy in this production, and I was pleased that they’d gone the extra mile and added more choreography than for the normal show. For a fan of Cole Porter, or someone who’s curious about those gaps in musical theater history, this show was a good investment of both time and money … the kind of thing that made you wonder, “What if?”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, Octover 20th, 2013. It continues at Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis studio on the 3, 9 and 10 of November, then moves to New York City’s Mint Theater from December 6-12th.)

Review – Words and Music – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells

July 28, 2013

Winter entirely passed without an announcement of this year’s Lost Musicals‘ season (normally starting in March!) and, I have to admit, I was getting a little bit worried. But then it finally showed up in May, three shows (Noel Coward’s Words and Music; Burrow’s and Merril’s Holly Golightly;” and Cole Porter’s Around the World, starting in July and going through November, all at Sadler’s Wells. As ever, there’s a discount if you buy all three shows; be encouraged by me and go for it.

This afternoon’s show was prefaced with a bit of an apology from Ian Marshall Fisher: although Lost Musicals is intended to highlight forgotten works of the golden age of American musicals – but Words and Music doesn’t really qualify. It was written by Noel Coward – a British composer – for a British audience. The plan had been to show Coward’s Set to Music, in which he recast many of the tunes from W&M for America, but Fisher had not been able to track down the music despite much searching. So we were presented with this show instead, but since it featured many now well known songs and had not been remounted professionally since 1932 (ditto Set to Music but since 1939), it did seem to meet the bar for the series.

That said, the format of an unrelated series of songs done as a revue is not one I really like – I’m a much bigger fan of plot and character than just tunes. And while performed with panache, gusto, and wit (standouts were the incredible ham Vivienne Martin and the sexy and sassy Issy van Randwyck), but I found my attention drifting. I’m glad to have heard “Mad About the Boy” and “Mad Dogs and Englishman” in their original settings, but, well ,to me this evening was really for the hard core types. I tend to think I am one, and I must be because I’m glad I went, but if this doesn’t get another professional production again I feel confident it will be for all of the right reasons.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday July 14, 2013. It continues at Sadler”s Wells Lilian Baylis Theater on Sundays through August 4th.)

Mini-review – Metafora -Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia at Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival 2013

March 24, 2013

Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia is the perfect beginner’s introduction to Flamenco, and this seemed to be reflected in the matinee audience on Saturday. It was full of schoolchildren and people who hurried to be inside the auditorium on time – the complete antithesis of every other performance I’d been to since the festival started. And, if I fess up, I’d decided for conservative seat in the first balcony way in the back, so obviously I had decided this was not the show to blow the wallet on.

The program started well, with a group of musicians to the back of the stage, and three men dancing in front of them. Then a red veil draping the rear third dropped away, and five women dressed in turquoise long-skirted dresses (“bata de cola”) were revealed, to my joy. They proceeded to the front of the stage and begin to do the magnificent dancing with the shawls whirling and the tails of the skirt being frequently and effortlessly kicked away as they spun around. It’s a hard style to show off your footwork, I think, but it’s really just a joyful spectacle, and I sat there grinning like a loon the whole time. And then the salmon-frocked Pastora Galvan (I think!) came out and showed the young chickies how it was done.

And then … well … I kind of felt like things lost their energy, perhaps because I think Flamenco doesn’t naturally lend itself to being performed in unison by groups. The only memorable things about the rest of teh show, for me, was the handsome solo of Ruben Olmo, skinny as a rail but powerful as hell and looking utterly focused, and then a languorous performance by Rocio Molina, with more of the unusual, angular arm work she’d done during her solo show but with considerable restraint to her personality. Except for a bit of singing, nearly the entire second half of the show was done to canned music, which for me totally killed the feeling, as one of my favorite things about flamenco is the feeling of connection between the singers, the musicians, and the performers – the electricity as they look at each other, trying to anticipate what would happen next – it was totally gone, It was just people doing exactly what they’d rehearsed in the studio, and it had exactly the kind of feeling of electricity and improvisation you’d expect from that. Ah well, I enjoyed the Alegrias section well enough as well as the chance to see so much of Pastora Galvan and once more of Rocio Molina, and, you know, for twelve quid I can’t complain much.

(This review is for the matinee that took place on Saturday, March 23rd 2013 at 2:30 PM. The Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival continues through March 27th.)

Mini-review – Danzaora – Rocio Molina at Sadler’s Wells 2013 Flamenco Festival

March 20, 2013

My third opportunity to see Rocio Molina perform was an occasion for some thought afterwards. She’s proven her mastery of the techniques; it’s now, clearly, time for her to start demonstrating her abilities as an artist. To that effect, she chose a stripped down set: her, three accompanists, a square pillar with a vase and a goblet; and a small seating area in the back. The focus was really on dancing, and what dancing makes you think about when done well: the way music and footwork interact (her and a glowing tambourine); the body as an instrument (as one of her palmeros added in some much more complicated footwork); the artifice/necessity of accessories in flamenco (hair as a part of a dance; pistachio green versus granny shoes in a “I’ll choose whatever tool I want to suit my dance” style).

Ambition, I think, overtook this show; my experience as a flamenco audience was quickly overwhelmed by my years watching modern dance, which it seems Ms Molina hasn’t acquainted herself with. She was clearly moving flamenco forward from its rather smothering tradition (i.e. Farruquito’s show), achieving brilliance during the flamenca versus palmero section (which had echoes of Indiana Jones’ Nepalese drinking game) and deliciously warping the fabric of space and time during the “dancing to the echoes of my own feet” section at the very end. But as modern dance this show came of childish and half baked, with thin ideas and a reliance on cheese (“I smash the glass beneath my feet!” and “Behold! I shake the bells on my head!”) rather than depth and … well, intelligent modern dance. So I found parts of if it quite painful, but I was still able to accept its failings as the experiments of a choreographer trying to push the limits of what she knows, while hoping that perhaps she might get out and see how much broader a vocabulary and tradition exists than the one she seems to be working with.

My final thoughts were that there seem to be about four types of flamenco performances, which I define as follows: Ye Olde School, hypermasculine and choking on tradition (Farruquito); I Feel Pretty, the tourist tablao, with lots of long skirts and fans rather than excellent dance (Nuevo Ballet Espanol); “This time do it without the scarf” (a Brady Bunch reference), a show which attempts to be “modern” that fail but may feature excellent dancing (tonight); and shows that actually push the art form forward (Israel Galvan, coming up Sunday but my review of his last show here; Paco Pena’s Quimeras). The last is, of course, my favorite kind; but what I enjoy about the Flamenco Festival is that it gives me a chance to see so many different kinds of flamenco performed that I feel like I have had a chance to really get exposed to what is going on in today’s flamenco scene, even from as far away as London. On to the next show (for me) Friday: Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 19, 2013. The Flamenco festival continues through March 23rd.)

Mini-review – Abolengo – Farruquito at Sadler’s Wells 2013 Flamenco Festival

March 19, 2013

Sunday night was the opening for the second performance of Sadler’s Well’s 2013 Flamenco Festival, a program called “Abolengo” (supposedly “heritage”) starring the dancer Farruquito. In addition to three singers (Encarnita Anillo, Antinio Villar, Juan Joe Amador) and the usual backup, he had the surprising addition of a pianist (Jaime Calabuch), which at time gave things a very cool nightclub feeling, and the Mexican dancer Carmen Amaya. I was worried he might treat her as merely a filler or someone set up to make him look better, but it wasn’t the case at all: he chose someone that set him off by matching him in talent rather than by being an obviously weaker dancer. Go Farruquito, and go Carmen for your wonderful talents. (Encarnita, I’m afraid, I found too harsh … her voice grated on me about midway through her second song and while I could see that she was well in control of her notes, it just sounded like the instrument had been broken and any sweetness could no longer be found.)
Adopt one today!
Overall, the style of both Farruquito and Amaya’s dancing was very leg focused – when they danced together (as in at the beginning), there was some big arm swoops, but pretty much no gentle twists of the hands and wrists. It all felt very masculine, a feeling that wasn’t helped by the focus on speed throughout. I like my flamenco to have more buildup, but (much as it is with some men!) this performance nearly entirely avoided slower moments in favor of BANG BANG BANG spin *bounce* OLE! When Amaya did her long solo toward the end of the piece, I felt like I finally had a chance to relax and enjoy some artistry rather than just seeing flamenco stunts. Still, there was much to be said for Farruquito’s penultimate dance, “Improvisasion en una mesa.” As my companion said, “That was my kind of table dance!” And in his grand finale, my God, the man was spinning in the air and bounced off his knees – I think he gave Ivan Vasiliev a run for the money. The audience was hugely appreciative; I was happy to not be bothered with bata de cola faffing and having Amaya and Farruquito dancing together on an equal basis with a similar focus, even though, in the end, this was not the kind of flamenco I prefer – it was just too hard edged.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, March 17th, 2013. The 2013 Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival continues through March 27th.)

Mini-review – Ay! – Eva Yerbabuena at Sadler’s Wells Flamenco Festival 2013

March 18, 2013

On Friday night, Sadler’s Wells opened its 10th annual flamenco festival with Eva Yerbabuena. She’d decided to avoid the risk of having lesser (or worse yet better) dancers distract from her performance and did the show solo; a treat, really. Of course we had a band so plenty of time for guitar solos and songs while she rested or changed costumes; but mostly, it was her, on the stage, changing her look by adding a scarf or flipping her sleeves inside-out. The overall approach was stripped down in terms of setting as well, with decor consisting of a large chair-like thing and a table that split in half (in fact although I think it was also a metaphor). Yerbabuena drew us along for a heavy emotional ride, leaving me worn out with sadness from the dance/movement piece she did mostly broken and curled across the tabletop; but she also moved with speed and grace, as absorbing as one could hope from a skilled flamenquera who knows how to use her soul as well as her body, with accessories to add to an effect but not distract from the overall feeling.

A special highlight of this evening was the sing-off between the two male dancers that had the audience in stiches; while their song (about how messed up the world is nowadays) wasn’t too funny, apparently the people in the band were teasing them (“Sing it, fatty!”) and having a good time. Laughter and tears: you could hardly ask for a better opening performance for a flamenco festival.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 15th, 2013. The Flamenco Festival continues through March 27th.)

Good deal – half price tickets for Opposites Attract and Autumn Celebration – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

October 22, 2012

I haven’t been putting a lot of theater deals on here lately but I had to point this out: the Metro has a half priced deal for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s two programs at Sadler’s Wells this week – “Opposites Attract” and “Autumn Celebration.” “Opposites Attract” is a pure mixed rep with choreography by Jessica Lang, Hans van Manen, and David Bintly (a Dave Brubeck tribute); “Autumn Celebration” has the much awaited Bintley Olympics inspired “Faster” and Ashton’s “The Dream” and a third piece.

Note that while Birmingham Royal Ballet is performing from Tuesday October 23rd through Saturday October 27th, the half priced deal is only good through Thursday the 25th (the first day of the Faster/Dream bill), so if you want to use it you’d better get moving. Either book only with code pcdcelebrate or call the box office and quote the “Celebrate the City” offer. It’s only available on top priced tickets, so from 40 quid to 20 (less for the Weds matinee). Good luck and enjoy!

Review – Flahooley – Lost Musicals at Sadler’s Wells

May 22, 2012

It’s now three years into the Lost Musicals series for me, and I have to say I was checking and rechecking both the Sadler’s Wells and the Lost Musicals webpages this spring hoping for details of this year’s shows. Disappointingly, there are only two shows this time around, but I booked dutifully and showed up at the Lilian Baylis studio last Sunday for Flahooley. Sadly, due to this last-minute scheduling, I wasn’t able to stay for all of it – but I’ve got a guest review to fill in the details of what I missed.

As ever, the show opened with Ian Marshall Fisher giving us background on the show, which I’ve semi-transcribed:

The book and lyrics are by E. Y. “Yip” Harvo, a “sprightly and annoying” poetic genius. His first job was at a light bulb company in the 20s (shades of Charles Dickens at the blacking factory!). When the factory went down the tubes during the Depression, Harvo’s school buddy Ira Gershwin invited him to be a lyricist. His first hit song was “Brother Can You Spare a Dime;” these days, he’s best known for “Over the Rainbow”. Both were songs with not just pretty words, but meaning, with words that made people smile while ingesting his philosophy … a philosophy that later cost him his career.

Yip’s big success was Finian’s Rainbow (about how whites treated blacks in the 40s – I did not know this as I’ve never seen it). But after World War II he was blacklisted as a commie. Being a socialist actually wasn’t that uncommon for a Jewish first generation American – but in the 50s the “communist threat” became an obsession for the country. The McCarthy hearings were broadcast daily, with celebrities and other prominent people in a chair, on national TV, being grilled with one main question: “Were you a communist?” Many had been, maybe 20 years earlier. Lots of people informed on their friends to save themselves. Jerry Robbins was one of those who named names, destroying the career of Zero Mostel. Once Yip was named a lefty, his jobs dried up and he went back to NYC. But once he was there, producer Cheryl Crawford producer (from the Group Theater in Chicago) invited him to do a show with her. This became “Flahooley,” a show that on the outside is fairy tale yet lampoons Western history and capitalism. But America wasn’t ready for it, what with the general feelings in the air and the Korean War. It was seen as Anti-American, a play that made fun of what had “made us successful.” It had only 40 performances before it closed.

The original show had one famous person: Peruvian Yma Sumac, who was a big star at the time with a five octave vocal range. (The part of Princess Najla is clearly written for her, based on what I heard sung during the show – nice work, Margaret Preece!) Other (later) famous faces were Jerome Portland and Barbara Cook.

Flahooley also requires a certain amount of familiarity with 1950s American slang to get the jokes. Remember that Ike is president, pediatrician Dr Spock and psychotherapy are popular, and loyalty tests are rampant. On TV was comedian Milton Beryl and kiddy TV shows Hopalong Cassidy and Kukla Fran and Ollie (a puppet show). References are also made to beanie hats, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (known for her funny hats), S.N.A.F.U. (used to rhyme “snafuly,” very clever!), serotan (a laxative typically named by spelling the word “nature” backward), and drugstore Walgreens (still in business).

Be warned, though: despite the left leanings of the author, some of the dialogue may not pass the standards of the modern audience. Sample:
Saudi ambassador (to president of toy company, B.G. Bigelow): Salaam aleikum.
B.G. Bigelow: Shish kebab.

So: how was the show? Well, I enjoyed the constant railing against the silly aspects of capitalism wrapped around a gentle story about a romance in a toy factory. The dialogue was clever at a level modern shows can’t meet, though the songs weren’t as memorable as I would have liked (despite the two wonderful nonsense songs sung by Princess Najla). I left at the interval (1:50 later) … here’s a review by David G on the entire show.

“The musical Flahooley is an uneasy clash of themes. Part critique of witch-hunts by a writer who’d just been blacklisted from Hollywood at the height of McCarthyism, part satire of American capitalism by a socialist, part magical tale of an Arabian genie by the lyricist of Wizard on Oz, and part standard boy-meets-girl-and-finally-wins-her-by-buying-her-a-balloon love story, it never quite manages to knit the strands together into a coherent whole. On Broadway, it ran for just 40 performances before closing, and that was after having been refined and toned down during provincial previews.

“Flawed though it is, it works very well as a Lost Musical, where it’s performed in a concert setting with minimal choreography. Flahooley is set in a toy factory, and the original performance made extensive use of puppets in some scenes; these are, admittedly, hard to realize in the Lost Musicals format and are at times confusing. But there is still much to love in the lyrics and the music, including the exquisite juxtaposition of the townspeople singing about their belief in Santa Claus with the appearance of a genie who ruins their economy by … creating and giving out free toys.

“So, yes, at times Flahooley has a confusing plot and uneven tone, but there is more than enough of interest to make it well worth a revival by the Lost Musicals team.”

You know, I may just try to go back and see the rest of it …

LATER: Wow, this play was even more subversive than I thought! Per Wikipedia: “Following the original book, the doll exclaimed “Dirty Red!” instead of laughing, went to sleep when you fed it phenobarbital, woke up when you fed it benzedrine (a drug also referenced in Finian’s) and had the stated purpose of teaching children how to be good Americans.”

(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, May20th, 2012. Flahooley continues through June 3rd.)