NEW YORK — For the second time in less than a year, a major revival of a Broadway musical has not made it to the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles as originally announced.
A radical retooling of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1958 musical “Flower Drum Song,” had been scheduled to play at the not-for-profit theater next spring, with an eye to a possible Broadway run. Lead producers were Benjamin Mordecai and Gordon Davidson, who is artistic director-producer at the Ahmanson.
Last spring, the Rodger Hess production of “Finian’s Rainbow” shuttered after its initial engagements at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida and Cleveland’s Playhouse Square Center before it was to open at the Ahmanson for a scheduled run last summer. Davidson replaced the Burton & Harburg tuner with “James Joyce’s The Dead,” which had closed two months earlier on Broadway.
Hess said that enough money was in place to enhance the “Finian’s Rainbow” production at the Ahmanson but not to bring it to Gotham. “Without Broadway, the L.A. engagement made no sense,” said the producer.
Unusual prod’n plan
“Flower Drum Song” represented a very different financial and production arrangement. The revival was to have originated at the Ahmanson with a series of other engagements to have followed, including possible stops in Dallas, Vancouver and Singapore, among other cities, before coming to New York. The not-for-profit theater had budgeted the production at $4.2 million and was said to have been within $200,000 of that mark when scheduling commitments prevented the producers from going ahead with the show.
In a written statement, Davidson announced the decision to cancel the production: “Since this was a brand new production, the lead time necessary to properly design and build the scenery, costumes, create new orchestrations as well as other production elements, ran out. With that in mind, all parties mutually agreed to cancel the musical at this time.”
Mordecai would not comment on the “Flower Drum Song” production except to say, “As the money was coming in, time was running out. It sounds like the presidential election, but no chads.” The producer is currently involved in bringing August Wilson’s “King Hedley II” to Broadway in April.
After a successful run on Broadway in the late 1950s, “Flower Drum Song” soon became the target of protests from various Asian-American groups that objected to stereotypes in the story of Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans living in San Francisco. With permission from the Rodgers & Hammerstein estate, playwright David Henry Hwang (“M. Butterfly”) went back to the musical’s original source material, C.Y. Lee’s novel, to rewrite the book by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joseph Fields.
Hwang’s version was first unveiled in a workshop production in New York in May 1999. Under the direction of Robert Longbottom (“The Scarlet Pimpernel”), two other workshops were held in October 1999 and September of this year. Longbottom had been set to direct the Ahmanson production as well.