BLOOMER GIRL was one of the most important musical plays in Broadway history, coming as it did between R&H's OKLAHOMA! and CAROUSEL, and sharing in all three productions, Agnes DeMille's dances and choreography for a central ballet.
In addition BLOOMER GIRL had Celeste Holm, who had made a hit the year before as OKLAHOMA!'s Ado Annie.
It lasted on Broadway a significant year and a half, opening 10/5/44 and closing 4/27/46 with 654 performances to its credit.
It was immediately revived at the NY City Center from 1/6/47 to 2/15/47 for a total of 48 performances. It has never been revived on Broadway from that date on.
Although comedy was present, it was a serious musical play, dealing with two significant issues, Negro slavery in the South, and the emancipation of women, two issues obviously inter- related. It was set just prior to the Civil War.
The score, by Arlen and Harburg, is nothing short of great. The Decca original cast album has been present in 78 rpm, 45 rpm, 33-1/3 rpm and cd versions, hardly ever out of print for long. It now sadly is.
Why was this great achievement never filmed? The same reason Rodgers' NO STRINGS was never filmed racial prejudice in the American South. During the 1950s, the serious R&H film versions dealing with slavery, racial discrimination and spousal abuse (THE KING AND I, SOUTH PACIFIC, CAROUSEL), received stellar film adaptations. However, no film company wanted to take the chance of a double whammy of serious issues, which the American South could boycott. The R&H name guaranteed box office throughout the country, but Arlen and Harburg did not.
In the early 1970s, following her success with SWEET CHARITY, Shirley MacLaine was announced to star in a 20th Century-Fox production of BLOOMER GIRL, but it was scrapped. As was the United Artists announced production of NO STRINGS, with Pat Boone and Nancy Kwan. (Inter- racial romances were okay, if they involved Caucasian and Eurasion -SOUTH PACIFIC, THE WORLD OF SUSIE WONG, LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING, etc. but not if it involved Caucasian/Negroid pairs).
So, BLOOMER GIRL has languished. Never revived on stage, never filmed.
However, we do have this kinescope of the 1956 color TV adaptation, starring the young Barbara Cook, only four years on Broadway at the time and three years away from her first iconic role as Marian the Librarian in THE MUSIC MAN.
Of the 14 original musical numbers, 11 are retained. Not heard are: The Farmer's Daughter (the salesmen sons' tribute to comfort away from home); T'Morra (a hymn to the frustrations of a quiet life); and The Rakish Young Man With The Whiskahs (the heroine's delight in finding she is in love).
Barbara Cook is radiant in the role of Evalina, the one unmarried daughter of hoopskirt manufacturer, Horatio Applegate, and Keith Andes makes a handsome and assured Southern suitor as Jeff Calhoun. Why Cook was never nabbed for Hollywood (or was she and she not interested?) is a mystery. Her dramatic and musical instincts are stellar.
Carmen Matthews is a perfect Aunt Dolly Bloomer. Rawn Spearman, on whom I can find no information he's not even listed in the cast on IMDb - has the important role of Pompey, the runaway slave. He acts naturally and sings magnificently. He did win the Marian Anderson Award in 1949. Brock Peters has one of the stanzas of I Got A Song (he would go on two years later to play Crown in the film of PORGY AND BESS).
In the chorus are two prominent dancers: James Mitchell (the Dream Curley in the film of OKLAHOMA!) and Virginia Bosley (Jeanne in the film of BRIGADOON and also appearing in that of OKLAHOMA!).
The greatest boon to the artistic world with this production, however, is the Agnes de Mille choreography, in the dance following "It Was Good Enough For Gradma" and the Act Two climactic "Civil War Ballet." This was her second Broadway choreography job, following OKLAHOMA! She would go on in rapid succession to choreograph CAROUSEL, BRIGADOON and ALLEGRO.
This 80 minute production is all we have of BLOOMER GIRL visually. It deserves at least a concert revival, if not a full Broadway production. It's a treasure to own and should be part of every Broadway musical enthusiast's collection.
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