Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen's politically-edged 1944 musical, Bloomer Girl, gets a rare revival in New York City Aug. 31-Sept. 24 by Cotton Blossom Musicals, a troupe devoted to socially-aware musical works.
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."
The revival 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). Agnes DeMille 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," "Eagle and Me," "The Farmer's Daughter," "Evelina" and more.
Previews begin 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. Official opening of Bloomer Girl is Sept. 7. 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 of 25, including Maryellen Conroy, Meghan Maguire, Amy McAlexander, David McMullin, Greg Mills, Les Minski, PJ Nelson, Tonianne Robinson, Amy Shure, Raphael Darrell Sligh, Frank Stellato, Geoff Sullivan and Lee Winston.
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. 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