Cotton Blossom Musicals, a Manhattan troupe devoted to socially-aware musical works, opens a rare revival of Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen's politically-edged 1944 musical, Bloomer Girl, Sept. 7.
The tuner about women's rights and abolition, set during the Civil War, serves some of Harburg's tartest lyrics, including the cult favorite, "The Eagle and Me," sung by a hopeful slave who believes "whatever is right for bumblebee and river and eagle is right for me." Stephen Sondheim has praised the song as one of his favorites. "Right as the Rain" became a standout popular song, living on over the years as the score grew more obscure.
The revival (through Sept. 24) is being billed as the first New York staging of the show since its Broadway original, when Celeste Holm, hot from Oklahoma! starred as Evelina, the fictitious niece of Dolly Bloomer, the publisher of The Lily, an early feminist and abolitionist publication. Evelina's father is a prominent hoopskirts manufacturer. The action centers around Dolly and Evelina's attempts to end the wearing of hoopskirts in favor of the much less confining and inhibiting bloomers. The show also shows the women's efforts to help an escaped slave to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
The musical ran 654 performances and was considered groundbreaking for its attempt to tell a socially relevant story within the frame of a musical comedy (Harburg did it a few years later, too, with Finian's Rainbow and Flahooley). The libretto is by Sig Herzig & Fred Saidy. Agnes de Mille choreographed the original staging, which included "The Civil War Ballet." The score includes "Right as the Rain," "T'morra', T'morra'," "It Was Good Enough for Grandma," "Rakish Young Man With the Whiskers," "When the Boys Come Home," "Welcome Hinges," "Sunday in Cicero Falls," "I Got a Song," "Man for Sale," "I Never Was Born," "The Eagle and Me," "The Farmer's Daughter," "Evelina" and two songs not on the original cast album, "Look North" and "Pretty as a Picture."
Previews began Aug. 31 at the Theatre at St. Clement's Church, 150-seat black box on West 46th Street. Two years ago, Cotton Blossom staged Harburg's fantasy-satire, Flahooley. The production is an Equity-approved benefit, with proceeds going to Seven Works, a nonprofit that serves the economically disadvantaged of the Hell's Kitchen/Clinton neighborhood. Alisa Roost directs a cast that includes Maryellen Conroy (as Dolly Bloomer), Meghan Maguire (as Evelina), Amy McAlexander (as the Applegates' made, who sings the choice. Comic number about virginity, "T'morra', T'morra'"), David McMullin, Greg Mills, Les Minski, PJ Nelson, Tonianne Robinson, Amy Shure, Raphael Darrell Sligh (as Pompey, the runaway slave), Frank Stellato, Geoff Sullivan (as suitor Jefferson Calhoun), Lee Winston, April Allen, Leah Zimmerman, Mary Murphy, David Reinhart, Andrew Michalski, Mimi Ferraro, Lenore Manzella, Heidi Flanagan, Jane Guyer, Kofi Mills and Chris Bolden.
Although audiences are used to seeing obscure classic musicals in concert revivals, Bloomer Girl is a fully staged production with costumes. Myra Vassian is musical director, Julia Baumgarten, Heidi Flanagan and Amy Shure choreograph (and based the ballet on de Mille's work). Designers are James E. Crochet (costumes), Alan Keen (lighting) and Ron Meyers (settings).
Tickets are $25, with discounts for seniors and students at the door. Thursday shows are "pay-what-you-can," with all proceeds going to Seven Works. The Theatre at St. Clement's is at 423 W. 46th St. For tickets and information, call (212) 246-7277, xtn. 32 or visit the web site at www.cotton-blossom.org.
Bloomer Girl is made possible by support from the Harburg Foundation and the Adolph and Ruth Schnurmacher Foundation.
-- By Kenneth Jones