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Collated Florodora Reviews - A Most Illuminating Tale
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Robert Wells or Mr Waters
Date: 11.32 am, Sunday 22nd January, 2006
Subject: Collated Florodora Reviews
Security: Public
Music:Willie Was A Gay Boy - Kate Cutler
Tags:florodora, reviews
The Guardian


Those who think the modern musical absurd should take a gander at this historic specimen: the big hit of 1899, lovingly revived in a concert version. Floradora ran for 455 performances in London, 549 in New York and kept coming back; but, while Leslie Stuart's music has much charm and wit, the book by Owen Hall beggars belief.

The action shifts, somewhat uneasily, between a Philippine island and a castle in Wales. The former is the source of the perfume that gives the show its title and of a cat's cradle of amatory relationships. They involve an American millionaire, a native girl, an absconding peer, a society lady and countless others, but they no longer involve us. What is revealing, sociologically, are the assumptions behind the show: that Americans have money but no class, the British have class but no money and that all women born east of Suez have a dimpled, child-like innocence.

Stuart's songs compensate for the asinine libretto. Tell Me Pretty Maiden, originally performed by a double choric sextet, is ingeniously seductive, and, whatever one thinks of its sentiments, A Military Man is a rousing hymn to the sexuality of soldiering. But, in the end, Floradora confirms that a musical is only as good as its book.

Admittedly, the piece - musically directed by Timothy Henty and minimally staged by Nina Brazier - could hardly be better done. Simon Butteriss brings energy to the comic role of a bumptious phrenologist whose financial greed leads him to announce that "science is golden". Abigail Jaye - as the millionaire's daughter ogling the front row in The Fellow Who Might - sparkles, as do Rosemary Ashe as a titled predator and Katie Foster-Barnes as a farm girl. With only two more Sunday stagings to come, the show is certainly a collector's item; but, with its quaint, neo-Gilbertian absurdity, it reminds us how far the musical has come in the past 100 years.

Michael Billington
Tuesday January 10, 2006

Sunday Telegraph

Florodora, a hit musical for Leslie Stuart and Edward Boyd-Jones at the turn of the last century, featured a chorus of identically proportioned young women known as the 'Florodora girls'.

They were often proposed to by male fans, often accepted, and the large audiences they attracted ensured long, successful runs in both London and New York. For three Sundays this month Florodora is being performed by a cast of seven actor/singers plus four musicians at the Finborough, a tiny theatre above a pub in Earl's Court.

Space here is so restricted that the players, who are reading from scripts owing to a shortage of rehearsal time, are forced to line their chairs up in a row like a choir and keep their props - fans, shawls, bonnets, beards, cravats and canes - around their feet.

The story switches between an island in the Philippines where Florodora perfume is made and a stately pile in Wales acquired by the millionaire who runs the Florodora perfume company but then is finally and justly won by the innocent, angel-faced farm girl (Katie Foster-Barnes) who captures the heart of the long lost lord (Alex Gaumond). The music and lyrics are dustier than Gilbert and Sullivan, so you laugh at it rather than with it, but it is charming and a curiosity well worth seeing.

Rebecca Tyrell
(Filed: 15/01/2006)

The Stage

Not revived professionally for decades, this 1899 musical comedy is the enterprising choice for some Sunday night outings at the Finborough sure to attract the aficionados. And with good reason. Though the plot - concerning the fortunes in love of the proprietor and manager of the perfume plantation on the Philippine island of Florodora - is distinctly slender, and some of the jokes hoary, there is enough wit and charm in the best material to demonstrate why Leslie Stuart’s score was once an enormous hit in London and New York.

The first act drags a little, but momentum gathers with the second, which is stuffed with good numbers, including the famous ‘Tell me, pretty maiden’. Described as a concert performance, the show offers more. Though the cast hold on to scores and scripts, they know how to put over the dialogue and work hard to create some pretty unlikely characters.

Rosemary Ashe’s Lady Holyrood, ‘a penniless lady of title’, is a tour de force, equalled by Simon Butteriss’s expertly delivered Anthony Tweedlepunch, a brilliantly sustained comic turn. Not far behind is David O’Brien’s Cyrus W. Gilfain, the American perfume magnate, while Garrie Harvey, as the dashing Captain Donegal, makes a showstopper out of ‘A Military Man’.

Conductor Timothy Henty, in charge of an orchestra of five that plays his arrangements enthusiastically, presides over the music with a real sense of brio.

George Hall
Monday 9 January 2006 12:35 PM


Tell me, pretty music, is there any more at home like you?

Wherever musical comedy died, or turned into The Musical, its rebirth in an Earl’s Court fringe theatre seems unlikely. But if Florodora’s 3 performances are the success they utterly deserve to be then musical comedy composer Lionel Monckton may soon be toe-tapping to his own tunes from his nearby grave. For he’s also on Finborough artistic director Neil McPherson’s not-so-little list of composers due for revaluation.

Of course this 1899 piece isn’t rock ‘n’ roll and has been neither chic nor cool for the best part of a century. And a concert production with 9 soloists-*****-chorus and 5 instrumentalists doesn’t automatically mean the piece would stand up to full production. If the notion of Philippine island Florodora, with its secret-formula perfume exploited commercially by American Cyrus Gilfain, seems ethnically challenged, wait till the second act transports us, supposedly, to Wales. Despite appropriating names from all 3 Celtic countries of the British Isles as it then was, script references are resolutely to England and English.

But, in its day Florodora was the thing. The musical number least aligned to the plot, “Tell me, pretty maiden, are there any more at home like you,” became a hit standard, and the ‘English girls’ introduced simply to sing it alongside the male chorus of clerks became known as the Florodora girls.

There’s no reason the conventions of musical comedy shouldn’t be accepted as are those of commedia dell’ arte. Allowing for a candyfloss Edwardian view of the world, there’s a lot to like; all beautifully observed within the confines of Nina Brazier’s resourceful production by a fine ensemble.

Rosemary Ashe beautifully points the social comedy of her number ‘Tact’ and the salon comedy of ‘An Inkling’. Simon Butteriss with every instinct of the performer who puts the comedy in musical comedy, shapes even dated and indifferent lines beautifully. And Katie Foster-Barnes’ innocent Florodorean is a performance imbued with the ability to suggest deep reactions in a simple look. When these 2, disguised as French performers, let rip in Laura Krasnic’s choreography the effect’s glorious.

Yes, it’s all rather silly. But, oh, so much fun.

Jan 10, 2006 - 12:14 PM London

Rogues & Vagabonds


Florodora is one of those musical comedies I only know by repute. Always mentioned in any history book of the genre and widely credited as ‘...the First Musical Comedy’, it was the hit of the London Theatrical Season in 1899 and the toast of Broadway for two years from its 1901 opening.

Since this rousing start, the intervening one hundred years or so has consigned the show to the history books and only one tune from the score has kept itself in the mainstream public ear – ‘Tell Me, Pretty Maiden’. I must admit that I only know the first couple of lines from this as Ken Dodd always uses them for one of his wonderful musical, visual gags. So the prospect of seeing and hearing this rarity in a concert performance at the Finborough Theatre was not something I was going to miss.

Florodora has one of those flimsy and charming operetta plots which rely on the lure of the exotic setting and the rose tints of romance, all mixed up with a healthy slosh of wit and silliness. The story starts on the small Philippines Island of Florodora where the entire population is devoted to making and exporting the national perfume.

The island and perfume business is owned by American millionaire Mr. Gilfain (David O’Brien) and managed by Frank Abercoed (Alex Gaumond) who quite early on in the proceedings becomes Lord Abercoed on the death of his uncle. Both men it seems are in love with the island beauty, Dolores (Katie Foster-Barnes) but she only has eyes for Mr. Abercoed.

Angela Gilfain (Abigail Jaye), the Millionaire’s daughter, arrives on the island with her intended, Capt. Arthur Donegal (Garrie Harvey) and his widowed sister, Lady Holyrood (Rosemary Ashe). The latter is intent on bagging a new husband and has her eye on Angela’s father as a suitable candidate.

All the romantic coupling seems to be dovetailing nicely until the arrival of Mr. Tweedlepunch (Simon Butteriss) who manages, via his scientific system of feeling people’s bumps (endless mileage for innuendo there), to mix up the pairings, much to everyone’s annoyance. The subsequent sorting out of the situation to everybody’s satisfaction is the work of the second half which transplants the action to Abercoed Castle in Wales. A far cry from the Philippines.

Owen Hall’s script is the first jewel of this sparkling piece. The dialogue is sharp and witty and has an elegance about it that borders on Oscar Wilde. Just like its operetta forbear, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, the script is given the same level of skill and ingenuity as the score and so there are none of those unfortunate sags in the evening which do sometimes occur in musical comedies, usually between the times the band plays.

Unlike The Mikado, the lyrics for the evening are not provided by the writer of the script, but E. Boyd-Jones and Paul Robbins seem to have been working to the same high level as Owen Hall and so the transition from spoken dialogue to sung is without any bump of stylistic change. Once more, elegance and wit abound.

The score by Leslie Stuart is the glittering centrepiece to the evening. Filled with inventive and toe-tapping tunes, it skips along with a delightful bounce in its Edwardian step.

Dolores’ and Mr. Abercoed’s deepening love blossoms through Dolores’ classic operetta style solo ‘Silver Star of Love’ and the enigmatic duet of romantic courtship ‘Somebody’. The full bloom is saved for the heart-, elbow- and knee-melting ‘Shade of the Palm’, which Abercoed and the company sing towards the end of the first half. Oral and aural valium for the soul.

The wit of the score is saved for Mr. Tweedlepunch and the world-weary and advice-giving Lady Holyrood. Her solos were chatty, up-market versions of Music Hall songs while he seemed to inhabit a more operetta patter-song world. Angela Gilfain and Capt. Donegal’s more straight forward romance was enlivened with a racy set of sprightly numbers. Even the Chorus songs, usually the plain bread and butter of a score, were filled with invention and laced with exquisite counterpoint passages.

Concordance, who are the brains behind this excellent concert performance, have found in Timothy Henty a Musical Director of great skill with this kind of repertoire. He and his five musicians attacked the score with great brio and produced a sumptuously period sound with the barest minimum of resources. Tempo-wise they seemed spot on, as were Mr. Henty’s cut down musical arrangements, which displayed just the right amount of orchestrator’s wit.

One tiny niggle for the management. Please, please, please ditch the Front of House music on the sound system. It is so unfair on your wonderful tiny orchestra to let an audience hear recordings of thirty-piece bands knocking out medleys from Kiss Me Kate and such shows just before they tune up and start. Silence, to me, would be the best option, but if you must have Front of House music, something from a period earlier than the show or solo instrumental pieces would be more suitable.

Nina Brazier, as the director, was faced with a very difficult logistical problem of staging this reading. Concordance are performing on another show’s set, which leaves them with a tiny playing space that would be small for the nine singers alone. But there are also five static musicians and a conductor to find space for as well, so the problems are compounded. Luckily she had the good sense not to try anything too flashy with the semi-staging and her production was a master class of blocking combined with the clever use of simple ensemble tableau. Ken Livingstone-type traffic jams should have occurred but Ms. Brazier managed to circumnavigate them with a flourish.

Concordance have brought together a cast of singers who rise wonderfully to the occasion that the material gives them. All are able to produce the light operatic quality of voice that is needed for this piece and as a chorus of singers are able to give the company numbers a suitable amount of operatic ‘wellie’ in the top notes. It never felt like just nine people were singing, it always felt like more.

Katie Foster-Barnes and Alex Gaumond as Dolores and Lord Abercoed were a vocally well-suited pairing and their voices blended beautifully in their shared romantic lines. Abigail Jaye and Garrie Harvey, as the second romantic leads, Angela and Donegal, were a sparky and perky contrast to Dolores and Abercoed and hinted at the dance possibilities of their roles with some judicious, minimal choreography that Laura Krasnic had managed to shoe-horn into the postage stamp playing area.

As the two comic characters, Lady Holyrood and Tweedlepunch, Rosemary Ashe and Simon Butteriss proved their expertise in stylish comedy singing and acting. Ms. Ashe had her way with many of Lady Holyrood’s more epigrammatical lines of dialogue and showed a glowing panache for classy Music Hall delivery. She is also endowed with a very healthy vocal range which was more than utilised in the company numbers.

Simon Butteriss brought a fast and furious energy to Tweedlepunch’s comedic capers but he tempered this with a lightness of touch which helped effect the sympathy change needed to redeem this character in the second half. He is also a patter singer of astonishing speed and clarity.

The three remaining company members (David O’Brien, Jane Quinn and Robert Waters) all endowed their various roles with great aplomb and completed a spirited ensemble of singers.

Florodora is a beautiful piece wonderfully performed at the Finborough. Now that Concordance have liberated it from its role of historical footnote I hope it finds another life back where it belongs on the stage. Enterprising Producers and Opera Companies please note!

Jack Hughes
Friday 13th January 2006

Nice to have them all together.
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User: turpentinekiss_
Date: 12.13 pm, Sunday 22nd January, 2006 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The shows sounds fun, and you even get a mention in the last one- well done.
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