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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Flahooley
Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells   May-June 2012

For more than twenty years producer-director Ian Marshall Fisher has mined the rich vein of musical theatre, found shows that were either unappreciated in their time or forgotten since, and mounted semi-staged concert performances for limited runs under the umbrella title of Lost Musicals. 

Some have been delightful rediscoveries, some might more charitably have remained lost, but since he also mines the rich vein of talent in West End choruses, road companies and pantos, the productions are always beautifully acted and sung. 

Flahooley, with book by Fred Saidy, music by Sammy Fein and lyrics by E. Y. Harburg, was a Broadway failure in 1951, so was it worth rediscovering? Not especially, though it's still fun.

A toy designer comes up with a doll that is a sure Christmas hit, but an encounter with a magic lantern genie (Don't ask) results in an unending supply of dolls, glutting the market and damaging the economy. Can the genie be stopped, the company be saved and the boy get the girl? 

In programme notes and a pre-show speech, Ian Marshall Fisher expresses his belief that the show is secretly about the Red Scare and anti-Communist witch hunts of 1950s America, and there are some digs at loyalty oaths and mob xenophobia – but no more than there are at government bungling, high taxes, psychiatry, flying saucers and the potato glut. 

And even those are little more than topical jokes, part of a general pattern of working in mentions of then-current celebrities and brand names so that there is hardly a line of dialogue without some pop culture reference. 

If Saidy and Harburg's scattershot satire has any main target, it is boom-time consumerism, and an economy built on selling people things you first convince them they want. Harburg's wittiest lyric is a Christmas carol full of brand names, anticipating (and perhaps inspiring) Stan Freberg's 'Green Christmas'. 

Musically, Fain provides not only that pastiche carol, but a mock folk song, faux gospel number and parody hunting song, along with standard-issue love duets and production numbers.

And that, more than any political backlash, may be why the show failed in 1951. The plot is not much sillier than most, though it is noticeable that all sorts of loose ends are ignored in the rush to a happy ending. But, the occasional witty lyric aside, the songs are undistinguished and unmemorable. 

It is fun to see Flahooley again (I am probably one of the few people around to have seen it before, in an Off-Off-Broadway revival), but most of the fun comes from the very high standard of this production. With musical director Mark Warman at the piano, a cast of twenty, in formal dress and holding scripts, provide a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon's entertainment. 

James Irving and Emily O'Keeffe are charming as the romantic leads, Matt Zimmerman funny as the harried toy company boss. Stewart Permutt is as fey a genie as you could ask for, and Margaret Preece repeatedly stops the show running unlikely coloratura trills as an improbably operatic Arabian princess (I told you not to ask). 

Like all Lost Musicals productions, Flahooley runs for short string of Sunday afternoons.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Flahooley - Sadler's Wells 2012  

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