Carnival in Flanders (musical)
|Carnival in Flanders|
|Music||Jimmy Van Heusen|
|Basis||1934 French comedy film La Kermesse Héroïque|
Based on the 1934 French comedy film La Kermesse Héroïque, it is set in 1616 in the small Flemish village of Flackenburg, where a Spanish duke and his entourage descend upon the community. The mayor plays dead, hoping that his ruse will force the visitors to depart, but the duke sets his sights on the man's "widow" and begins to woo her. The musical had a brief run on Broadway in 1953.
Harold Arlen was approached to write the score, but the task ultimately fell to Van Heusen and Burke. Bing Crosby was providing much of the financing for the production and had great faith in the songwriting team, who had written several of his hits, despite the fact that their previous theatrical collaboration, Nellie Bly (1946), had been a critical and commercial flop.
George Oppenheimer, one of the book's original co-writers, withdrew from the project during pre-Broadway tryouts in Philadelphia, and Dorothy Fields joined her brother Herbert to help with rewrites. Eventually all their work was discarded by Sturges, who replaced Bretaigne Windust as director and completely reworked the book before the show reached California for a series of stagings by light opera companies prior to the New York City opening. Choreographer Jack Cole was replaced by Helen Tamiris, and several cast changes were made before the troubled production finally opened on Broadway.
Carnival in Flanders opened on September 8, 1953 at the New Century Theatre, where it ran for only six performances. The cast included John Raitt, Dolores Gray, and Roy Roberts. Critics were enchanted by Oliver Smith's sets and Lucinda Ballard's costumes, inspired by Brueghel paintings, and Gray's lively performance, but universally panned every other aspect of the production. In his review for The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote "As an actress [Dolores Gray] is authoritative enough to bring down the house with some of the maudlin songs...In the version prepared for the stage by Preston Sturges it is laborious and banal... As usual, the theatre has lavished a lot of wealth and talent on this hokum. Lucinda Ballard has dressed everybody to the nines... Although Oliver Smith's scenery is cluttered and rather desperate, there is certainly a lot of it."
According to Sturges, the available rehearsal time prior to the Broadway opening was not sufficient for the actors to be comfortable with the changes, and he attributes this as the reason for the play's commercial and critical failure. If remembered at all, it is primarily as the source of the Van Heusen-Burke standard "Here's That Rainy Day."
Awards and honors
- Furia, Philip; Lasser, Michael (2006). America's Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley. Routledge. p. 239.
- "'Carnival in Flanders' History" TCM.com, accessed March 12, 2012
- Nellie Bly at the Internet Broadway Database
- Atkinson, Brooks."At The Theatre: Dolores Gray and John Raitt in 'Carnival in Flanders' at the New Century" New York Times (September 9, 1953), p. 38
- Sturges, Preston; Sturges, Sandy (adapt. & ed.) (1991), Preston Sturges on Preston Sturges, Boston: Faber & Faber, ISBN 0571164250, p.325
- Oliver, Myrna."Dolores Gray, 78; Stage and Screen Singing Star" Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2002
- Mandelbaum, Ken, Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1991. pages 169-71