Florodora – not Floradora!
From the time of its first performance in 1899, when it played for over 450 performances in London, Florodora went on to enjoy enormous success in America and Australia, remaining in the repertoire until the 1930s – and more often than not, misspelled and mispronounced.
Florodora was first staged at the Lyric Theatre under the management of Tom B Davis (1867-1931) on 11 November 1899, with Sydney Ellison (1867-1930) in charge of the production.
The Lyric Theatre had been constructed for Henry J Leslie (1854-1900), who had achieved considerable success with the comic opera Dorothy. Originally produced at the Gaiety Theatre in September 1886, the piece was only moderately successful, and George Edwardes (who had just taken over the management of the Gaiety from John Hollingshead) sold it to HJ Leslie, who revised the show and mounted it at the Prince of Wales in November 1886, where it became hugely popular. With these proceeds from Dorothy, Leslie was able to build the Lyric Theatre, transferring it there for the theatre’s opening in December 1888. Dorothy ran for 931 consecutive performances, the longest running London musical at the time until the production of A Chinese Honeymoon in 1901.
Over the following decade, many more successful musicals were produced at the Lyric under Leslie’s management, including Doris (1889) and The Red Hussar (1889). When Horace Sedger (1853-1917) succeeded him in late 1890, he continued the tradition with La Cigale (1890), The Mountebanks (1892), Little Christopher Columbus (1893), and His Excellency (1894). In June 1896, William Greet (1851-1914) became manager, producing Dandy Dan the Lifeguardsman (1897) and Little Miss Nobody (1898). He was followed by Tom B Davis, who oversaw the production of L’amour mouille (1899), which introduced Evie Greene (1875-1917) to London audiences. Though the piece was a disappointment, its star wasn’t, and keen to find a new vehicle for Greene, Davis commissioned Leslie Stuart (1863-1928) to devise a new musical for her. Though this was Stuart’s first musical, he was not completely unknown, having composed the songs “Lily of Laguna” and “Soldiers of the Queen”, both achieving popularity in the music halls and with military bands. The book for the musical was devised by Owen Hall, a pseudonym used by Irish-born James Davis (1853-1907), who had been responsible for the librettos of numerous musical comedies during the 1890s, including A Gaiety Girl (1893), An Artist’s Model (1895), The Geisha (1896), and A Greek Slave (1898).
The story, like that of most musicals is somewhat fanciful and exists in order to provide a structure for the songs and to give each of the principals the opportunity to show off their comic and vocal skills. Comprising two acts, the first is set on the beautiful flower-filled island of Florodora in the Philippines, where Cyrus W Gilfain, a rich American, runs a factory manufacturing a perfume called “Florodora”. Gilfain has taken possession of the island illegally, the real owner being Dolores, the daughter of the late proprietor. She is unaware of her inheritance, having been brought up as one of the workers, and as a means of legitimising his claim on the island, Gilfain plans to marry her. Aware that some injustice has been perpetrated, Anthony Tweedlepunch, a phrenologist, comes to the island in the hope of righting the situation. Meanwhile, Gilfain is keen for his daughter Angela to marry Frank Abercoed, his manager, who has come into a title, but does not know it. Frank and Dolores are in love, and Angela is keen on Lady Holyrood’s brother, Captain Arthur Donegal. So, in order to secure the hand of Dolores, Gilfain bribes the phrenologist to declare that Gilfain is “made for” Dolores, and Angela for Frank. Refusing to accept this, Frank, returns to England, vowing to come back for Dolores at a later date.
The second act takes place at Abercoed Castle in Wales, Gilfain having bought the property from its impoverished owners. Frank, Dolores and Tweedlepunch gain admission to the castle disguised as minstrels,with the hope of rousing the castle ghost and scaring Gilfain into a confession. The plan works and Gilfain acknowledges his wrongdoings, leaving the way open for Dolores to marry Frank, Angela to marry Donegal, and Gilfain to pair off with Lady Holyrood.
By setting the libretto in the Philippines, was Owen Hall pandering to the audience’s love of the exotic, or was he alluding to recent events the Pacific? In 1898, following the defeat of the Spanish in the Spanish-American war, the Philippines became a colony of the United States, having been under Spanish rule since the mid-sixteenth century. Is Gilfain therefore a metaphor for America and Dolores symbolic of the defeated Spanish? By allowing Dolores to triumph over Gilfain, is Hall suggesting a return to Spanish rule? And, by letting Dolores marry into the peerage, is Hall supporting old world values over new world bluster? One can speculate that there may be more going on in this libretto than just a frothy story of love and betrayal on an exotic flower filled island. Owen Hall and his work clearly deserves closer examination.
The show’s original songs were devised by Edward Boyd-Jones (d.1904), Paul A Rubens (1875-1917) and Leslie Stuart, with contributions from J Hickory Wood, Frank A Clement, Alfred Murray and Aubrey Hopwood.
Of the songwriters, Rubens would go on to enjoy a career as a prolific lyricist and composer. In 1899, he was still at the outset of his career, having previously contributed songs to L’amour mouille (1898) and Great Caesar (1899). After the success of Florodora, he would go on to write songs and/or librettos for The Toreador (1901), Three Little Maids (1902), Lady Madcap (1904), The Blue Moon (1905), The Dairymaids (1906), and Miss Hook of Holland (1907); all highly successful musical comedies of the Edwardian period. Rubens contributed seven songs to Florodora, Boyd-Jones penned eleven, and Stuart was responsible for five.
Stuart wrote the show’s most memorable number, the double sextet, “Tell me, pretty maiden / Are there any more at home like you?”, as well as “Tact”, composed for Ada Reeve (1874-1966), a popular comedienne and vocalist, who was specially engaged by Tom Davis to create the role of the merry widow Lady Holyrood. Likewise, Willie Edouin (1846-1908), one of cleverest comedians of the period, was engaged to play Tweedlepunch, the phrenologist. In 1897 he created the role of Hilarius in the first English production of La Poupee and would go on to enjoy success as Hoggenheimer in The Girl From Kay’s (1902), General des Ifs in The Little Michus (1905), and Moolraj in The Blue Moon (1905). Both Reeve and Edouin had close associations with Australia. Reeve made numerous trips between 1897 and 1924, while Edouin spent his formative years in the colonies, prior to establishing himself as a popular performer in America and Britain from the 1870s.
A triumphant success
Florodora was a sensation from the outset, with its gorgeous sets by Julian Hicks and costumes by Alias, its first class comedians such as Ada Reeve and Willie Edouin, and array of beautiful girls. As the Era (18 November 1899) summarised:
“Florodora” is certainly the brightest, liveliest, and most amusing entertainment of its kind which is at present being offered to the London public. The book is cleverly contrived and ingeniously invented; the lyrics are gaily, neatly, and crisply written; the music full of dash and brilliancy; the stage pictures are extremely pretty; and each of the principals hasplenty of opportunities. Mr Tom Davis is to be congratulated and complimented upon the enterprising and energetic manner in which he has managed the production. With such artistes as those who composethe cast at the Lyric, this is tantamount to saying that the musical comedy goes with a swing and a spirit that are irresistible; that it is a triumphant success with the public; and that it will for many months to come draw crowded houses to the comfortable and admirably managed theatre at which it has been produced.
Of the principal performers, Ada Reeve and Willie Edouin received the greatest praise. Of Ada, the Morning Post (13 November 1899) gushed:
Miss Ada Reeve’s powers of charming were more cleverly displayed than they ever have been before. One does not expect good lines in a piece of this kind on the first night, for the authors leave it to the comedians to supply them … from beginning to end of the piece she jibed cleverly at all the institutions of which one is wont to speak with a conventional respect. She also wore a large number of beautiful frocks, and sang several songs with whose melodies the man in the street will soon be thoroughly familiar. The best of them, perhaps, was “I’ve an inkling”, for it has in it a delightful unexpected rhyme, and every verse renews the pleasure.
Similarly, Willie Edouin’s comic skill was commended:
The chief burden of the piece among the male performers falls on Mr Edouin, who makes a most diverting figure of the phrenologist. His lecture in the first act is exceedingly funny, and so is also the scene where he and Dolores come to the Welsh castle as “mysterious musicians”. (1)
Of Evie Greene, it seems she was still warming to the role:
Miss Evie Greene did not quite repeat the success which made her known to us who live in London, but shegrew better and better as the piece went on, and in the end, came in deservedly for no small share of the applause that was lavished on the performance. (1)
The other principal roles were performed by Kate Cutler as Angela Gilfain, and Melville Stewart as Frank Abercoed, with Charles E Stevens as Cyrus W Gilfain.
Florodora held the stage at the Lyric until 30 March 1901, notching up 18 months or 455 performances. During this time, new actors stepped into the principal roles, most notably Lena Maitland and Florence St John for Evie Greene; Australian-born Pattie Browne, Edith Mousley and Phyllis Rankin for Ada Reeve; and Decima Moore for Kate Cutler. Of the men, while he was in America, Willie Edouin was replaced by Fred Eastman.
When the show reached New York in late 1900, it eclipsed the London original by running a staggering 553 performances at the Casino Theatre. When it opened on 10 November, the principal roles were Willie Edouin as Tweedlepunch, with Agnes Wayburn as Dolores, Sydney Deane as Frank Abercoed, Edna Wallace-Hopper as Lady Holyrood, and May Edouin as Angela Gilfain.
On its first American production, the New York Times was quick to label Florodora “a pronounced and instantaneous hit”. Willie Edouin was welcomed back to New Yorkafter an absence of sixteen years. The inclusion of May Edouin as Angela, also gave the opportunity for father and daughter to be reunited.
But the hit of the show was the double sextet, comprising six girls and six young men and their song “Tell me, pretty maiden”. The girls became one of the main attractions, with male admirers flocking nightly to shower them with gifts. Original members of the sextet famously received offers of marriage from wealthy suitors, and as a result there was a high turnover among their number. One notable addition was Evelyn Nesbit, who was at the centre of the Stanford White-Harry K Thaw scandal.
The first Australian production was no less of a success, opening at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on 15 December 1900. A stellar cast was assembled, headed by Grace Palotta, George Lauri, Carrie Moore, Maud Chetwynd, and Wallace Brownlow.
As Lady Holyrood, Grace Palotta (1870-1959) made her reappearance before a Melbourne audience. Austrian-born Palotta enjoyed a successful career in Australia, having made her first appearance on the musical stage in London in A Gaiety Girl (1893), The Shop Girl (1894), All Abroad (1895), My Girl (1896), The Circus Girl (1896), and A Runaway Girl (1898). During 1894-1895,when the Gaiety Company, which included Blanche Massey, Maud Hobson, Decima Moore, Fred Kaye, Charles Ryley and Leedham Bantock, undertook a world tour, visiting America, New Zealand and Australia, she played leads in A Gaiety Girl, In Town and The Shop Girl. With Florodora, she made the second of five visits she would make to Australia between 1895 and 1918.
Grace Palotta’s reappearance was a highlight as noted by the Age (17 December 1900):
The event of the evening, however, was certainly the re-appearance of Miss Grace Palotta, who established her claim to be recognised as an actress of refined and distinctive personality when she was in Melbourne five years ago with the Gaiety Company. Added
experience has developed her talents, and has given her a more perfect poise and a more tranquil manner, which enabled her to realise very completely the part of the society lady, audacious, charming, frivolous, but always and in spite of all, a “grande dame” to the finger-tips.
George Lauri (1859-1909) was a popular comedian in musical comedies, having been brought to Australia by JC Williamson in 1891 to play the title role in The Merry Monarch. English by birth and a member of the theatrical Lauri family, he had spent much of his career performing in America prior to settling in Australia. As a principal with the Royal Comic Opera Company, he created leading roles in the first Australian productions of Marjorie (as Gosric), The Mountebanks (as Barolo), The Vicar of Bray (in the title role), Ma Mie Rosette (as Bouillon), Miss Decima (as the Rev. Dr Jeremiah Jackson), The Gay Parisienne (as Ebenezer Honeycomb), La Poupee (as Hilarius), The Geisha (Wun-hi), Robin Hood (as Sir Tristram Testy), and The Rose of Persia (as Hassan), as well as appearing in revivals of Gilbert and Sullivan and also in pantomime.
Carrie Moore (1882-1956) who played Dolores was still in her teens, having been “discovered” five years earlier in Geelong by JC Williamson. A prodigious talent, vivacious and charming, Carrie was already a sweetheart of the musical and pantomime stage in Australia. Dolores was one of her first leading roles, and by all accounts, she did a better job than her London counterpart. As a member of the Royal Comic Opera Company she had appeared alongside George Lauri in La Poupee (as Henri), Robin Hood (as Maid Marion), The Rose of Persia (as Heart’s Desire) and in the pantomime Little Red Riding Hood (as Boy Blue).
Florodora ran for an extraordinary fifteen and a half weeks or 106 performances, making it the longest running show in the history of the Australian stage, passing the previous record holder La Fille du Tambour Major, which played for 102 performances at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Melbourne in 1880. Other long runs included The Geisha, which notched up 72 performances in 1899, and Charley’s Aunt, What Happened to Jones, and The Sign of the Cross each achieving fifty plus performances. (3)
In Sydney, Florodora opened as the Easter attraction on 6 April 1901, with a largely unchanged cast. As in Melbourne, Grace Palotta, George Lauri and Carrie Moore delighted audiences with their antics. It held the stage until 5 July 1901, playing for thirteen weeks, and achieving a sterling 94 performances.
Florodora continued to be revived well into the middle of the twentieth century. In London, the first major revival took place at the Lyric Theatre on 20 February 1915, with Evie Greene (Dolores), Jamieson Dodds (Abercoed), Edward Lewis (Tweedlepunch), Josephine Ellis (Angela), and May Leslie Stuart, a daughter of the composer as Lady Holyrood.
The next major revival occurred some fifteen years’ later at Daly’s Theatre on 29 July 1931, with Violet Code (Dolores), Geoffrey Davis (Abercoed), Dorothy Ward (Lady Holyrood), George Graves (Tweedlepunch), and Lorna Hubbard (Angela).
New York saw three major revivals. The first was at the Winter Garden Theatre on 27 January 1902, with Dorothy Morton (Dolores), Sydney Barraclough (Abercoed), Virginia Earle (Lady Holyrood), Thomas Q Seabrooke (Tweedlepunch), and Toby Claude (Angela).
The second was at the Broadway Theatre on 27 March1905, with Maud Lambert (Dolores), Joseph Phillips (Abercoed), Adele Ritchie (Lady Holyrood), Philip H Ryley (Tweedlepunch), and Elsa Ryan (Angela). The final production was at the Century Theatre on 5 April 1920, with Eleanor Painter (Dolores), Walter Woolf (Abercoed), Christie MacDonald (Lady Holyrood), George Hassell (Tweedlepunch), and Margot Kelly (Angela).
In Australia, Florodora remained in the repertoire of the Royal Comic Opera Company into the 1930s. The first revival, in June 1902, took place at Her Majesty’s in Melbourne, featuring members of the original cast, with the exception of Harold Thorley, who now played Abercoed. A 1905-1906 revival saw the principal roles taken by Florence Young (Dolores), Haigh Jackson (Abercoed), Clara Clifton (Lady Holyrood), and Evelyn Scott (Angela), with George Lauri in his original role of Tweedlepunch.
In 1912, Grace Palotta reprised her role of Lady Holyrood, supported by Blanche Browne (Dolores), Frank Greene (Abercoed),Bertie Wright (Tweedlepunch), and Jessie Lonnen (Angela). In 1915, Florence Young transferred from Dolores to Lady Holyrood, with Ethel Cadman (Dolores), Derek Hudson (Abercoed), Phil Smith (Tweedlepunch), and Minnie Love (Angela). The same cast was seen again in late 1916, but with Jack Ralston now succeeding Derek Hudson as Abercoed.
The last recorded revival by the Royal Comic Opera Company was during the 1931-1932 season, when the principal roles were performed by Romola Hansen (Dolores), Sidney Burchall (Abercoed), Dorothy Brunton (Lady Holyrood), Cecil Kellaway (Tweedlepunch), and Nellie Barnes (Angela). With this production, gone were the Victorian bustles in favour of modern dress, as noted by Table Talk (15 October 1931):
With modern staging and dressing, and considerably altered dialogue, the evergreen “Florodora” … still retains the old appeal it had for the audiences of thirty odd years ago. Yet it is the charm of the old melodies, the amusing patter of Lady Holyrood, and the ridiculous Tweedlepunch, which make for the real success of the revival rather than any of the modernised portions. Topical allusions, and even some fresh verses for Lady Holyrood’s famous ditty “Tact”, have transformed the “book”, and the introduction of a concert party in the second act add some hilarious moments of broad comedy. Still the old favourites will always be the first favourites, and for them was reserved the most rousing applause.
It would be interesting to contemplate a further revival of Florodora in the 1940s when the Americans were replaced by the Japanese, the occupying nation using the islands as a source of cotton and sugar cane rather than flowers and perfume.
Elisabeth Kumm © 2015
1. Times (London), 13 November 1899
2. Morning Post (London), 13 November 1899
3. Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 1901
Florodora: a musical comedy, Francis, Day & Hunter Limited, London, 1899
Kurt Ganzl & Andrew Lamb, Ganzl’s book of the musical theatre, The Bodley Head, London, 1988
Stanley Green, Encyclopedia of the musical theatre, Da Capo Press, New York, 1976
Andrew Lamb, Leslie Stuart: The man who composed Florodora (Forgotten Stars of the Musical Theatre), Routledge, New York & London, 2002
Ada Reeve, Take it for a fact, William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1954
Leann Richards, The First Merry Widow: The life of Carrie Moore, Ginninderra Press, Port Adelaide, 2010
JP Wearing, The London Stage, 1890-1900, second edition, Rowman & Littlefield, London, 2014
Age (Melbourne);The Era (London);Morning Post (London); New York Times; Sydney Morning Herald; Table Talk (Melbourne); The Times (London)
No. 1 - Chorus – "Flowers a-blooming so gay" (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 2 - The Clerks' Song – Sims, Pym, Aepfelbaum, Langdale, Crogan and Scott - "The credit's due to me" (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 3 - Dolores – "The silver star of love" (words by Stuart)
No. 4 - Dolores and Abercoed – "Somebody" (words by Stuart)
No. 5 - Chorus of Welcome (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 6 - English Girls and Clerks – "Come and see our island" (words by Stuart)
No. 7 - Lady Holyrood – "When I leave town" (words by Rubens)
No. 8 - Angela and Donegal – "Galloping" (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 9 - Lady Holyrood, Gilfain and Tweedlepunch – "I want to marry a man, I do" (words by Rubens)
No. 10 - Angela and Chorus – "The fellow who might" (words by J Hickory Wood)
No. 11 - Gilfain – "Phrenology" (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 12 - Lady Holyrood, Donegal and Angela – "When an interfering person" (words by Rubens)
No. 13 - Abercoed – "The shade of the palm" (words by Stuart)
No. 14 - Finale Act 1 – “Hey! Hey! A-lack-a-day!” (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 15 – Opening Chorus – “Come lads and lasses” (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 16 - Lady Holyrood – "Tact" (words by Rubens)
No. 17 - Gilfain – "The millionaire" (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 18 - English Girls and Clerks – "Tell me, pretty maiden” (words by Stuart)
No. 19 - Lady Holyrood – "I’ve an inkling” (words by Rubens)
No. 20 – Finale – “The millionaire (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 21 - Dolores – "The Queen of the Philippine Islands" (words by Rubens)
No. 22 - Valleda and Leandro – "We get up at 8 am" (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 23 - Donegal – "I want to be a military man" (words by Frank A Clement)
No. 24 - Dolores – "He love me – he loves me not" (words by Boyd-Jones)
No. 25 - Angela – "Willie was a gay boy" (words by Alfred Murray)
No. 26 - Dolores and Tweedlepunch – "When we're on the stage" (words by Rubens)
No. 27 - Dolores – "The island of love" (words by Aubrey Hopwood)
When Florodora opened at the Lyric Theatre in November 1899, the cast comprised:
Alfred Barron (Max Aepfelbaum)
Blanche Carlow (Violante)
Kate Cutler (Angela Gilfain)
Fanny Dango (Juanita)
Willie Edouin (Anthony Tweedlepunch)
Nancy Girling (Valleda)
Evie Greene (Dolores)
Beatrice Grenville (Calista)
Nellie Harcourt (Lottie Chalmers)
Frank Haskoll (Reginald Langdale)
Frank Holt (Leandro)
Roy Horniman (Tennyson Sims)
Edith Houseley (Daisy Chain)
Ernest Lambart (Ernest Pym)
Sydney Mannering (Paul Crogan)
Jane May (Mamie Rowe)
Lily McIntyre (Jose)
Nora Moore (Lucy Ling)
Ada Reeve (Lady Holyrood)
Nina Sevening (Clare Fitzclarence)
Beryl Somerset (Cynthia Belmont)
Charles E Stevens (Cyrus W Gilfain)
Edgar Stevens (Captain Arthur Donegal)
Melville Stewart (Frank Abercoed)
Frank Walsh (John Scott)
Lydia West (Inez)
New York Cast
When the show opened in New York on 10 November, 1900 the cast was as follows:
Guelma L Baker (Valleda)
Mabel Barrison (Calista)
Nance Bonville (Leandro)
Joseph S Colt (John Scott)
George De Long (Tennyson Sims)
May Edouin (Angela Gilfain)
Willie Edouin (Anthony Tweedlepunch)
Sydney Deane (Frank Abercoed)
Edward Gore (Max Aepfelbaum)
RE Graham (Cyrus W Gilfain)
Daisy Greene (Clare Fitzclarence)
Lewis Hopper (Ernest Pym)
Fannie Johnston (Dolores)
Thomas A Kiernan (Paul Crogan)
Sadie Lauer (Jose)
Adelaide Phillips (Juanita)
Aline Potter (Violante)
Marjorie Relyea (Cynthia Belmont)
Cyril Scott (Captain Arthur Donegal)
Vaughn Texsmith (Mamie Rowe)
Elaine Van Selover (Inez)
Margaret Walker (Daisy Chain)
Edna Wallace-Hopper (Lady Holyrood)
Agnes Wayburn (Lottie Chatmore)
Joseph Welsh (Reginald Langdale)
Marie L Wilson (Lucy Ling)
When the show opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on 15 December, 1900 the first night cast was:
PB Bathurst (Leandro)
WB Beattie (Tennyson Sims)
Charles Beetham (Reginald Langdale)
Wallace Brownlow (Frank Abercoed)
Joey Cassellis (Valleda)
Maud Chetwynd (Angela Gilfain)
May Clayton (Calista)
Miss Leo Cross (Jose)
Annie Cubitt (Gwenlilian)
Cecil Englehardt (Lucy Long)
Florence Esdaile (Clara Fitzclarence)
Lily Everett (Inez)
Ethel Gordon (Mamie Rowe)
Sara Hyman (Juanita)
Emily Keegan (Violante)
Richard Keiley (John Scott)
Charles Kenningham (Captain Arthur Donegal)
George Lauri (Athony Tweedlepunch)
Carrie Moore (Dolores)
Ernest Mozar (Ernest Pym)
Evelyn Muret (Daisy Chain)
Irene Outtrim (Lottie Chalmers)
Grace Palotta (Lady Holyrood)
Claude Testro (Paul Crogan)
Hugh J Ward (Cyrus W Gilfain)
Nellie Wilson (Cynthia Belmont)
Fred Young (Max Aepfelbaum)
To see a comparison between the three casts click here.
Elisabeth Kumm © 2015