Capitol Records Album Cover for Flahooley
|Lyrics||E. Y. Harburg|
|Book||E. Y. Harburg
1951 Broadway1998 Off-Off Broadway
Synopsis and background
The allegorical tale is set in fictional Capsulanti, USA, site of the headquarters for B.G. Bigelow, Incorporated, the largest toy corporation in the world. Puppet designer Sylvester has created laughing doll Flahooley and is about to unveil it as the company's big Christmas release to the board of directors when the meeting is interrupted by a Saudi Arabian delegation. Their country has run out of oil, the magic lamp upon which they rely is broken, and they hope someone can repair it so genie Abou Ben Atom, who keeps things running smoothly, will reappear and help them in their time of need. Bigelow, enamored with Princess Najla, agrees and assigns Sylvester to the project. He succeeds and, hoping to become wealthy enough to marry his model Sandy, asks for assistance from the genie who, unclear on the concept of capitalism, begins giving away thousands of dolls. Before long a witch is pursuing him in an effort to put an end to his misguided generosity.
Harburg had successfully blended politics with fantasy in Finian's Rainbow four years earlier, but his bitterness at his 1950 Hollywood blacklisting, which prompted him to write Flahooley, permeated the project. During its evolution he conceded to some adjustments - originally the doll, instead of laughing, yelled "Dirty Red!" when turned upside down - but his convoluted plot still included too many thinly veiled references to Joseph McCarthy and his followers, and his harsh parody of the ongoing rabid anti-Communist sentiment that prompted so many witch hunts was not softened by the inclusion of a genie and singing puppets. It did not help that associate producer/director Harburg saw no need to edit writer Harburg's overstated political views.
The Broadway production was directed by Harburg and Saidy, choreographed by Helen Tamiris, and orchestrated by Ted Royal. It opened on May 14, 1951 at the Broadhurst Theatre, where it closed on June 15, 1951 after 40 performances. The cast included Jerome Courtland as Sylvester, Ernest Truex as Bigelow, Barbara Cook (in her Broadway debut) as Sandy, Irwin Corey as Abou Ben Atom, and Yma Sumac as Princess Najla, with Louis Nye, Nehemiah Persoff, and Ted Thurston in supporting roles.  Bil Baird and his wife Cora played small roles in addition to controlling the marionettes that performed "You Too Can Be a Puppet," the opening number that took a swipe at McCarthy's minions and set the tone for the rest of the evening, although by the time the show opened in New York, several songs and much of the more pointed satire was severely toned down or removed during the out of town tryouts.
In 1998, a production of Flahooley (the first in New York since its original brief run) was mounted at the Theatre At St. Clement's. Adapted and directed by Alisa Roost with choreography and directorial contributions by Al Joyal, and orchestration and musical direction by Peter Jones this 1998 revival production had some participation from the heirs of the original creative team. This allowed restoration of songs and other material, which was excised from the original production during its out of town tryouts (including the melodic and ironic indictment of the commercialization of Christmas, "Sing The Merry"). 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. The principal cast of the revival production included April Allen, Mark Cortale, Christopher Budnich, Natalie Buster, Clay Hansen, Alan Semok, Cheryl Walsh, Roxy Becker, Mimi Ferraro, J. Michael Zally and Tiffany Card.
- Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops by Ken Mandelbaum, published by St. Martin's Press, 1991 (ISBN 0-312-06428-4)