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Monday, 28 May 2012

Flahooley - Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells - Sunday 26 May *****

With hangovers from hell the result of spending Eurovision in the company of Cheryl Barker, Mike Nolan, Jay Aston and countless bottles of house white, we luckily only had to stroll next door for this Lost Musicals semi-staged presentation of Flahooley with by book by E.Y. Harburg (Finian’s Rainbow, Wizard of Oz) & Fred Saidy (Finian’s Rainbow), lyrics by Harburg and music by Sammy Fain (Calamity Jane).

As is customary, Ian Marshall Fisher, director and founder of Lost Musicals, gave us some enlightening pre-performance background information. This show was written after E.Y. Harburg had found himself blacklisted by Hollywood as a potential communist during the McCarthy trials and was persuaded to move to the east coast to write a Broadway show. The result is a thinly disguised attack on capitalism and McCarthyism. It also marked the Broadway debuts of both Barbara Cook and multi-octave Peruvian soprano Yma Sumac, whose additional songs were composed by her husband, Moises Vivanco.

The action takes place in a toy factory which manufactures a laughing doll, the titular Flahooley, that, with the help of an eager to please genie, becomes the most popular and cheapest toy during the ultra competitive Christmas season. Unfortunately, over-supply causes it to be sold at a loss, making the factory virtually bankrupt and leaving the inventor of the doll a social pariah. Along the way there is a boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins back girl story-line and plenty of opportunity for comedy.

With a cast of 19 dressed in black tie and evening wear, scripts in hand and accompanied by music director Mark Warman on piano, this is a treat. The madcap storyline which also involves an Arabian diplomat accompanied by a princess, the Yma Sumac role, bringing a broken magic lamp to be repaired and unwittingly releasing a genie, has laughs galore and some great songs, in particular a couple of gorgeous ballads beautifully sung by James Irvine and Emily O’Keeffe, the young leads playing the inventor and his girlfriend. Matt Zimmerman as the factory owner, James Vaughan as the Arabian diplomat and Stewart Permutt as the genie relish every comic nuance of the script and have the audience eating out the palms of their hands. Margaret Preece has the unenviable job of interpreting the Yma Sumac songs. I say songs, but there are hardly any lyrics and virtually no discernible tunes, simply displays of vocal acrobatics. Ms Preece however sings them with such agility and warmth, together with knowing looks towards the audience, that it is impossible not to be won over by her performance and the chutzpah of the original writers who shoe-horned such strange compositions into an already odd show.

By the end of the second act, after a weird but captivating journey peppered with lively songs from a first-rate cast and references to both Finian’s Rainbow and the Wizard of Oz, we learn that greed is most definitely not good, that we should embrace our differences and that we should support each other.

The Lost Musicals may not be to everyone’s taste as they require a little imagination and work from the audience to fill in the gaps left by the lack of scenery, props, costumes, etc, but the performers are such a joy to listen to and watch and it really does feel like a labour of love for all concerned. We two musical theatre nerds really couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon, we even avoided the bar queues by popping home for interval vodka and tonics.

Their next production, opening in August, is Cole Porter’s Aladdin. Meanwhile, the final two performances of Flahooley are next Sunday

Booking on June 3 2012 only - be quick - Flahooley

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