Flower Drum Song is unique among Rodgers & Hammerstein's musicals in that it was neither a massive success like Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music, nor a flop like Allegro, Pipe Dream, and Me & Juliet. It was a moderate success: Its 600-performance run on Broadway, 1958-1960, returned a profit to investors; its cast album was a gold-selling number one hit; and it spawned a film that was one of the Top Ten grossers of 1962. That it was not revived on Broadway for 44 years, however, has more to do with its creaky libretto than its initial popularity. The story of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, based on a popular novel of the day, may have been forward-looking in the late '50s, when the sight of a stage largely full of Asian-heritage actors was surprising on Broadway, but after decades of increased ethnic pride, it seemed stereotyped, and that the show's best-known song was "I Enjoy Being a Girl," which, taken out of context, sounded anti-feminist, didn't help. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization has taken radical measures to get the show back to Broadway, allowing playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) to dispense with the original libretto and write a whole new book. Hwang's new take is less apparent on a cast album that only features the songs, but there are indications of his changes throughout, with lyrics reconfigured and sometimes clearly sung tongue-in-cheek. And Don Sebesky's new orchestrations don't just use oriental quotes, as did Robert Russell Bennett's; they delve more deeply into Asian styles. Lea Salonga leads an excellent cast in executing the new version. Flower Drum Song is still a minor, if pleasant entry in the Rodgers & Hammerstein catalog, but it has been given a successful face-lift here.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|Flower Drum Song, musical|