When the City Center Encores! series presents a staged concert version of the 1954 Broadway musical House of Flowers by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote early next year, it will be with new orchestrations, because the originals by Ted Royal have apparently been lost.
According to Rob Fisher, resident musical director of the series, the orchestra parts disappeared some time after they were sent out to the musical staff of a production of the show that played in Westbury, Long Island and Valley Forge, Pennsylvania several years ago, starring Patti LaBelle and directed by Geoffrey Holder, with a revised book by Charles Busch. "All roads led to a couple of people who were involved in that production," Fisher tells TheaterMania, "and they said, 'Yeah, we think we had all that stuff but we don't know what happened to it.'" In lieu of the originals, new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick will be performed at Encores!
Fisher says that he's unsure who exactly mailed the original parts to those in charge of the LaBelle production; it may have been a member of the Arlen family, but on the other hand, "producers often feel like they paid all that money for the orchestrations, so they're the ones who often hang onto them. Unless a show became a rental property, there probably was only one copy of each part -- the copies that were played in the pit. We deal with that at Encores! all the time. Sometimes, a composer will send someone into the pit to grab the parts when a show closes. For the shows that didn't become rentals, it's anybody's guess, and there's usually a huge search involved.
"Encores! is going to get deeper and deeper into these searches, now that we've done 27 shows," Fisher added. As far as reconstructions are concerned, "We try to do one difficult show, one easy show, and one medium show each year, because the difficult ones are so difficult. Fortunately, a lot of original materials are now ending up at the Library of Congress, especially for shows by the big composers. Arlen is strange because his shows didn't get picked up for rental and there's never been a strong estate there, the way there's a strong estate for the Gershwins or Irving Berlin. It's such a shame."
With music by Arlen and book and lyrics by Capote, House of Flowers opened on December 30, 1954 at the Alvin Theatre -- now the Neil Simon -- and ran for only 165 performances. It starred Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll (in her Broadway debut), Juanita Hall, and Miriam Burton, and the largely black cast also included Geoffrey Holder, Alvin Ailey, Arthur Mitchell, and Ray Walston. Set on a tropical West Indies island during a Mardi Gras weekend, the musical tells the tale of a fierce competition between two brothels.
The original production was directed by Peter Brook and choreographed by Herbert Ross, with additional choreography by Holder. The show's vocal and dance arrangements were by the recently deceased Peter Matz. Short-lived though House of Flowers was on Broadway, the original cast recording of the show -- scheduled to be re-released on compact disc in the near future -- is prized for its inclusion of such wonderful songs as "A Sleepin' Bee," "I Never Has Seen Snow, and "Don't Like Goodbyes." (All of these songs were championed by Barbra Streisand early in her career, when Matz was her musical director.)
According to Rob Fisher, the inability of Encores! to find the original orchestrations is especially bittersweet because, "for months, we thought we had them. Someone who had worked on the Patti LaBelle version told us that he thought he had them -- but then, when he finally looked, it turned out that he didn't. I'm leaving this person nameless, but I did ask him at one point, 'Do you want to go down in history as the person who lost an entire show?'" Ironically, the LaBelle production used an extremely reduced orchestration -- "but," explains Fisher, "they used the original charts as a basis, to see how things were done. It's really criminal that they were lost."
Fisher says that it has not yet been decided to what extent Tunick's orchestrations will attempt to recreate the originals, "so I don't want to promise anything." But, he noted, "one thing that does still exist is a very good piano/conductor score that has a lot of instrumental cues. Basically, the whole show is covered by that and it matches what you hear on the recording, so there is a lot to start with. But we thought we had everything!"
Performances of the Encores! House of Flowers are set for February 13-16, 2003 at City Center. The production will be directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall.
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