House of Flowers

Diahann Carroll had just finished the shooting of the motion picture Carmen Jones when she got a call from her manager Chuck Wood. He wanted her to come back to New York immediately - the producers of Harold Arlen's new musical, House of Flowers, wanted to see her. 
  Diahann was exhausted the day she came back. Mr. Wood drove her to a beauty saloon - everything had to be perfect for the meeting that very same day. Ms Carroll dozed off in the chair while the stylist cut her hair. The result was a shock to Diahann - her hair was so short she looked like a boy! She was so upset she cried, but the meeting with the producers couldn't be delayed. The first thing Diahann did when walking on the stage for the audition was apologizing for the haircut, but Truman Capote (the author of the play) said it was perfect - she looked exactly like Ottilie (the part she auditioned for). Diahann was relieved, but still very nervous, and still very tired. She asked if she could sit down, and sat her self down on the edge of the stage. She writes in her book, Diahann!, "It was a rather theatrical gesture, but it did the trick. The distance between us closed, and I knew I was ready for them."
  From that moment on everything went right, and she won the part of Ottilie. The rehearsals soon started, and to the young Diahann Carroll it was all like a dream come true. To be on the same stage as Pearl Bailey, Geoffrey Holder and Juanita Hall! But by the time they moved on to the tryouts in Philadelphia it was obvious to anyone involved that there was problems. Diahann writes:

"House of Flowers was based on a Capote short story about a young girl named Ottilie who grows up in a West Indian bordello, yet somehow manages to remain completely innocent and pure. To convert the story into a musical for Pearl Bailey, the emphasis had been shifted to the madam who raised Ottilie and her ongoing rivalry with the woman who runs the competing bordello across the street. In the adaptation process, a great deal of the original charm was lost. To try to recapture it, the show was being overhauled almost nightly. The book was in a constant state of revision; songs were added, dropped, and shifted about. Actors were fired and hired. The original choreographer, the great George Balanchine, was replaced by the almost unknown Herbert Ross. We rehearsed the changes during the day, then introduced them into the performance that night, doing our best to hold on to what was good about the old, while simultaneously trying to give birth to the new. It was difficult, and the result was pretty much of a mess.
  "All that might have been easier if Peter Brook, our English director, had any confidence in us. But, unfortunately, it seemed to me that because he had relatively little experience with black actors and seemed to think we were all charming and cute, rather than full-fledged professionals, he became patronizing. /.../ When we realized that he didn't believe in us, our spirits were totally deflated. By opening night in New York, Brook had thrown up his hands in despair, and so had the rest of us."

But the show had its wonderful music, wonderful costumes and gifted artists (although Truman Capote later would comment that casting Pearl Bailey as the lead had been a mistake - that she had caused trouble from day one, dominated the show and even taken songs that Diahann originally should have performed). It opened in New York the night before New Year's Eve, 1954. Although the reviews were mixed, Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll both earned raving in the press, as did the music. Many reviewers complained about the weak script, but the show was still considered "hot". Diahann Carroll was later nominated for a Tony award for her performance as Ottilie - not bad for a 19-years old! House of Flowers ultimately had a four year run, and remains a fond memory for Diahann, calling it her "four years of college".

Cast (In order of appearance):
Tulip.................................................Dolores Harper
Gladiola..................................................Ada Moore
Do...................................Winston George Henriques
Don't.........................................Solomon Earl Green
Ottilie alias Violet..............................Diahann Carroll
Madame Fleur........................................Pearl Bailey
Monsieur Jamison...................................Dino Diluca
Madame Tango.......................................Juanita Hall
Mademoiselle Honolulu.....................Mary Mon Toy
The Sisters Meringue....Leu Comacho, Margot Small
Mademoiselle Ibo-Lele......................Pearl Reynolds
Mademoiselle Cigarette...................Glory Van Scott
Watermelon......................................Phillip Hepburn
Royal..............................................Rawn Spearman
The Champion.................................Geoffrey Holder
The Mother........................................Miriam Burton
Chief of Police......................................Don Redman
Captain Jonas................................Jaques Aubuchon
The Houngan.................................Frederick O'Neal

Saint Subber presents Truman Capote and Harold Arlen's new musical: HOUSE OF FLOWERS
Book: Truman Capote
Music: Harold Arlen
Lyrics: Capote and Arlen
Direction: Peter Brook
Sets and Costumes: Oliver Messel
Choreography: George Balanchine (later replaced by Herbert Ross)
Musical Director: Jerry Arlen
Orchestrations: Ted Royal

More information about the songs in the Discography section.


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