Playbill Cover for Flower Drum Song in 1958.
It was over ten years since Japanese-Americans were released from camps at the end of World War II, five years since the Korean War ended and just one year since former general and then President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent troops to Arkansas to ensure the safety of the "Little Rock Nine" — nine African-American students being integrated into Little Rock Central High School by order of the Supreme Court. It was 1958. On Broadway, racial tensions fueled the still-running musical West Side Story, which garnered conceiver-director-choreographer Jerome Robbins a Tony Award earlier in the year. New shows of the season include Goldilocks starring Don Ameche and Elaine Stritch, the Hong Kong-set play The World of Suzie Wong, and a new musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein set in San Francisco's Chinatown which centered not on race but rather on a love story.
Gene Kelly's "Who's Who."
The title page in the Flower Drum Song Playbill.
The songlist in the Flower Drum Song Playbill.
Parts of an ad for Columbia Records cast albums.
According to theatre historian and Playbill archivist Louis Botto, the adventurous work was not well accepted by its critics. "At that time, the very acerbic British critic Kenneth Tynan was reviewing for The New Yorker," Botto recalled the reviewer's pan, "and that was the season the hit play had played called The World of Suzie Wong, and his headline of his review was "The World of Woozy Song."
Flower Drum Song was overshadowed at that season's Tony Awards by a musical from librettist Fields' two younger siblings librettist Herbert and lyricist Dorothy. Composer Albert Hague's Redhead won awards for its stars Gwen Verdon and Richard Kiley, costume designer Rouben Ter-Arutunian, choreographer Bob Fosse and for musical itself, beating out its rival in virtually every category it was nominated save one, for Conductor and Musical Director Salvatore Dell'Isola. The Rodgers and Hammerstein work would later see the big screen in a 1961 film with its stage stars Miyoshi Umeki and Juanita Hall, a fate not shared by Redhead.