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Photos: Harburg Family Attend Theatre for New City's Production of E.Y. Harburg's FLAHOOLEY

Photos: Harburg Family Attend Theatre for New City's Production of E.Y. Harburg's FLAHOOLEY

On Christmas Eve, members of the Harburg family attended the show at Theater for the New City and joined cast members of E.Y. Harburg's 'Flahooley'.

The Theater for the New City and The Harlem Repertory Theatre presents a modern adaptation of "Flahooley" by E.Y. Harburg, Fred Saidy and Sammy Fain, to be staged from December 18 to January 3 at the Theatre for the New City. This classic musical tells of a misbegotten toymaker during the McCarthy madness.

In 1951, E.Y. "Yip" Harburg gave Broadway "Flahooley," a Christmas story with puppet theater and social and political satire, in response to his Hollywood blacklisting. The musical targeted big business and conformity and contained "genie hunts" and "doll burnings" that were direct satires of the McCarthyist witch hunts. Expectations were high following Harburg's success with "Finian's Rainbow" four years earlier. But "Flahooley" closed quickly and has slumbered ever since, save one Off-off Broadway revival in 1998. The musical, with book by Harburg and Fred Saidy, lyrics by Harburg and music by Sammy Fain, has been newly adapted by Keith Lee Grant, Artistic Director of Harlem Repertory Theatre.

The production will have an interracial cast of nine, multimedia effects, multi-disciplinary puppetry and an acoustic accompaniment by three live musicians. Nearly all of the original score will be used intact. Bil Baird's marionettes will be replaced by a collection of hand, rod and Bunraku puppets designed by Daniel Fergus Tamulonis. Direction and choreography are by Keith Lee Grant, who adapted the piece. The original production was a full-length Broadway musical; Grant's adaptation shortens the piece to an hour and a half, with no intermission.

"Flahooley" is an allegorical musical tale for audiences of all ages. It takes place in the fictional midwestern city of Capsulanti, USA, where B.G. Bigelow, Inc., an aggressive manufacturing company, bestrides the toy industry like a colossus. An Arabian sheik has arrived to beseech the owner, Mr. Bigelow, for help in repairing a magic lamp, with which the kingdom hopes to revive its oil industry against competition from atomic power and sneak attacks from Communist oppressors. A puppet designer named Sylvester Cloud has created a talking doll called Flahooley, with which Bigelow intends to achieve domination in the toy industry once and for all. Cloud is struggling for money to wed his fiancee, but he is being exploited by the toymaker. Bigelow is struggling to maintain his grip on the market amid a business climate of anti-communist suspicion (even the doll cries "dirty red, dirty red, dirty red!"). The doll conjures the Genie out of its bottle; the spirit sides with Sylvester against Bigelow and chaos breaks loose. It makes for a zany and highly entertaining satirical musical with kooky plot twists and an enchanting score.

The formula was not destined for success in 1951, though. Reviews were mixed and there was stiff competition from "The King and I," "South Pacific" and "Kiss Me Kate." The show closed, supposedly to reopen in the fall. The following year, a nonpolitical version of "Flahooley," adapted by William Friml and Burton Lane, renamed "Jollyanna," died quietly after performances at the San Francisco and Los Angeles Civic Light Operas. The original Broadway cast recording of "Flahooley," released by Capitol Records, is now one of the rarest of all Broadway records.

The Yip Harburg Foundation has planned this production closely with both TNC and Harlem Rep. Deena and Ernie Harburg live in the apartment building above TNC and have been fans of the theater's work for many years, being especially drawn in by its Street Theater Productions. Keith Lee Grant directed "Finian's Rainbow" for Harlem Rep two years ago. He discovered "Flahooley" by reading "Who Put the Rainbow in the Wizard of Oz," co-authored by Ernie Harburg, Yip's son and biographer. His adaptation is three years in the making. Grant describes being attracted to "Flahooley" by the passion of the piece. There were two small workshops in 2007 and 2008 and in October, 2009 the show had several workshop performances at Aaron Davis Hall.

Grant's collaborators include Art Perlman (script editing) and Daniel Fergus Tamulonis (puppet design). Musical direction and arrangements are by Michael Roth. Costume design is by Ann-Marie Wright. Set design is by Mary Myers. Lighting design is by Brian Aldous. Assistant choreographer is Mabel Gomez. The actors are Natalia Peguero, Yaritza Pizzaro, Alexandra Bernard, John Wiethorn, Primy Rivera, Daniel Fergus Tamulonis, Ben Harburg (grandson of the author), Eric Myles and Bianca Disarro.

Keith Lee Grant is Artistic Director of Harlem Repertory Theatre and an Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and Speech at CUNY. He holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, an MA from Penn State and a Certificate from the American Conservatory Theater's Advanced Training Program. He has directed and/or choreographed over ninety professional and university productions from "As You Like It, Pinero's "Short Eyes," Inge's "Picnic" the the musicals "Sweeney Todd," "A Little Night Music" and "Mame." He has performed on Broadway in "Marie Christine," "Showboat" and "Ragtime." He has worked Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, the York Theater, the Jewish Repertory Theater, New Federal Theatre, AMAS Theatre, and The New York Theater Workshop. His Regional credits include The Connecticut Repertory Theater, Yale Repertory Theatre, Syracuse Stage, The Pioneer Theater, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and The Indiana Repertory Theatre. His Harlem Rep production of "The Wiz"recently won two AUDELCO awards (Best Director of a Musical and Best Choreography of a Musical).

Puppet designer Daniel Fergus Tamulonis also appears as B. G. Bigelow in "Flahooley." He graduated from Penn State with a BA in Theatre and did extensive MFA work in Puppetry at the University of Connecticut. His thesis production, "L'Enfant et les sortilèges" (The Boy and the Magic) won an UNIMA Citation for Excellence in the Art of Puppetry. He has appeared in Harlen Rep's "Finian's Rainbow" (as Finian), "Cabaret" and "As You Like It."

The shows will be presented from December 18 to January 3 at the Theater for the New City (Cino Theater), 155 First Avenue (at East Tenth Street). The show runs 1:30; Critics are invited on or after Dec. 20. The show is recommended for young audiences (age 9 and up).

Please note irregular performance schedule:
Fri, Dec. 18 at 8; Sat, Dec. 19 at 2 & 8, Sun, Dec. 20 at 3
Th, Dec. 24 at 8; Sat, Dec. 26 at 2 & 8; Sun, Dec. 27 at 2 & 8
Th, Dec. 31 at 8; Sat, Jan. 2 at 2 & 8; Sun, Jan. 3 at 3

Tickets are $18 general admission, $10 students and seniors and can be purchased by calling the Box office: SMARTTIX (212) 868-4444 or online at www.theaterforthenewcity.net

 

Photos: Harburg Family Attend Theatre for New City's Production of E.Y. Harburg's FLAHOOLEY
Standing, L-R: Primy Rivera ("Abou"); Tom Harburg (Yip Harburg's grandson); Rebecca Harburg (Yip's great-grand-daughter), Alexandra Bernard ("Baumgarten"); Deena R. Harburg (Yip's daughter-in-law); Natalia Peguero ("Sandy"); Daniel Fergus Tamulonis ("B.G.Bigelow"; puppet design); Colette Harris-Sardine ("Najla"); Mabel Gomez ( Ass't Choregrapher; Solo dancer; Ensemble). Sitting, L-R: Janine Rainteau (Ensemble); Ben Harburg, Yip's grandson ("Clyde"). Photo is courtesy of Jonathan Slaff.


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