Friday, October 24, 2008

Why Florodora?

Florodora was the world's first international mega-musical. As time went on it became a showbiz legend - the first musical theater legend. Almost 30 years before Showboat, before Oklahoma!, before Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera there was Florodora, which showed what could happen when a stage musical permeates popular culture. Liken it to how Pinafore electrified the world of operetta twenty years earlier.

There was Florodora soap, clasps, hats, cigars and, of course, perfume. The Gibson Girl was replaced by the Florodora Girl. Every major town in the English speaking world saw a production or tour. The world's first ever cast recording was of, you guessed it, Florodora.

Florodora opened in London in 1899 and ran for nearly 3 years and was almost immediately revived. The next year saw an even longer run on Broadway in New York City. Florodora circled the globe to every major city. It opened in Seattle in 1901 and eventually in the Bay Area in 1907. It achieved the financial success and lasting fame that every major musical was measured against for decades.

"They are goddesses, the first of their class to immortalize the chorus girl," one critic stated in fulsome tribute to the damsels.

The much hyped celebrities of Florodora, The Six Florodora Girls, became international celebrities and for no rational reason, were whisked off the stage by rich bachelors at an astounding rate. During the two year run of the show in London and New York, hundreds of women were replaced in the role, and even more claimed to have been.

In San Francisco, ballet audiences were given the chance to vote on which choristers would become the Florodora Girls! In reality, as you can see, they weren't "chorus girls" as we know them, but very well coiffed, stylish and modestly costumed English ladies.

Whether or not you'll think that Florodora is the greatest show ever composed, its music was known and played for years. Celebrities kept Florodora on their bios for their entire lives - Milton Berle kept it on his resume (as a youth he was a Florodora Boy), Gypsy Rose Lee's mother claimed to have been a Florodora Girl, In My Man (1928) Fannie Brice sang "I Was a Florodora Baby,". The lives of the "original six" were chronicled until their deaths. Harry Truman played selections on the piano while in the White House. There was a feature movie in 1930, The Florodora Girl, and reference to the show appeared in literature and advertising for decades. Evelyn Nesbitt, the notorious femme fatale of Ragtime fame, was a chorister in the show (though it is unclear whether she was ever actually one of THE Six).

And we get to perform it, see it and hear it next summer!

1 comment:

  1. Incredible that a show with such a fascinating backstory and such a powerful and trendsetting impact on the intersection of theater and popular culture could fall so far into obscurity.