Reviewed by Karl Levett
Presented by Cotton Blossom Musicals and Theatre at St. Clement's at the Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 West 46 St., NYC, Aug. 31-Sept. 24.
The dedicated purpose of Cotton Blossom Musicals is the revival of socially relevant musicals—and for this commendable aim, we give thanks. The group's latest contribution is the 1944 musical "Bloomer Girl," with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E. Y. "Yip" Harburg. The melodic and witty score—Arlen and Harburg in top form—is reason enough for any revival of this little known work. The book (by Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy), however, is a superficial tale dragging some heavy, if well meaning, baggage: women's emancipation, slavery, and the Civil War. These weightier matters consistently undermine the lightness of the show's romantic theme. It is the show's songs that shine, demonstrating sophistication not evident elsewhere.
Built around the real life feminist leader, "Dolly" Bloomer (Maryellen Conroy), and her revolt against Victorian dress, Dolly here is involved in a fictitious tale that pits her against her brother-in-law, Horatio Applegate (Lee Winston), who manufactures hoops for hoopskirts. Horatio's daughter, Evelina (Meghan Maguire), has joined her aunt in being a "Bloomer Girl," reluctantly leaving her Kentucky suitor, Jefferson Calhoun (Geoff Sullivan). The Bloomer Girls are also involved in the Underground Railroad, and this brings the plot to the boil.
While Maguire and Sullivan make a pleasing pair of lovers, the demands of singing this lovely score, unfortunately, are not always met by the cast. This particularly applies to Harburg's intricate and amusing rhymes, which are too often lost in a fog of sound. Under Alisa Roost's direction, the singing is blessedly unamplified, but the problem does highlight the dependence of many younger singers on technology and not technique. Especially exempt from this defect are Raphael Sligh, P.J. Nelson, and Mimi Ferraro, while there are also stylish contributions from Tonianne Robinson, Greg Mills, and David McMullin.