Philip Bosco, Kathleen Chalfant, Kate Jennings Grant and Anita Gillette lead the cast of Bloomer Girl, the next musical in the City Center Encores! series' 2001 season. Dates for the little-known 1944 Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg work about women's rights and abolition are March 22- 25.
Bosco recently appeared on Broadway in the Tony-winning play Copenhagen. The actor won a Tony for his performance in Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor. As far as musical experience is concerned, he was to have co-starred in the once Broadway-bound Kander and Ebb musical, The Visit.
Grant was seen in Wendy Wasserstein's An American Daughter, while Chalfant is well known from such productions as Wit and Angels in America.
Also starring are Michael Park (Little Me), Everett Bradley (Swing!) and opera singer Jubilant Sykes. Rounding out the cast are Donna Lynne Champlin (By Jeeves, 3hree), Herndon Lackey, Ned Eisenberg (The Green Bird, King John), Mike Hartman, Todd Hunter, Karine Plantadit-Bageot, Nina Goldman and Robert Wersinger (the latter two are currently in Contact).
Bloomer Girl recently received a rare revival at the hands of Cotton Blossom Musicals, a Manhattan troupe devoted to socially-aware musical works. The tuner about women's rights, a northern family, a Kentucky suitor and a runaway slave, set on the eve of 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 beaver 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 (which played through Sept. 24, 2000) was 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 Encores! 2000 series of musicals-in-concert has already included A Connecticut Yankee, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's 1927 tuner about a modern-day man who finds himself in King Arthur's Court. Also on the schedule is Hair, the landmark 1968 rock musical about Vietnam, hippies and the '60s in general.
—By Robert Simonson
and Kenneth Jones