A Flop With A Gem: Songs from CARNIVAL IN FLANDERS (1953)

Welcome to our monthly Musical Theatre Monday post! In this entry, I’m offering subscribed readers access to a Live Backer’s audio of the notorious flop Carnival In Flanders (1953), which is best remembered today for the classic standard “Here’s That Rainy Day,” introduced by Dolores Gray, who performed the number (see the clip below) on TV in the ’70s. (As always, for a link to the Backer’s Audition audio, please subscribe — if you haven’t already — and comment here.) The show is also footnote fodder for earning Gray the honor of giving the shortest-running Tony-winning performance ever: six exhibitions (and she only played five)!

Carnival In Flanders opened 64 years ago this month, on September 8th, 1953; it closed on September 12th. The score was by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, while the book, by Preston Sturges, was based on a French comedy centered around a 17th century Flemish mayor who fakes his own death upon the arrival of a Spanish duke. But the Mayor comes to regret this decision when the Duke begins to romance the deceased’s “widow.”

Aside from Gray, the cast included John Raitt and Roy Roberts, but their star power wasn’t enough to rescue the tumultuous book, which had passed through several typewriters (including George Oppenheimer’s, and Dorothy and Herbert Fields’) before arriving in Sturges’. Meanwhile, other cast and crew changes managed to keep the production in a permanent state of unease — an excuse Sturges would later use to help explain the show’s poor reviews. Ultimately, bad notices and high production costs, which could likely never be recouped, fostered Carnival In Flanders‘ quick demise.

However, the Van Heusen/Burke score is charming — even beyond the aforementioned standard. For instance, there’s the Duke’s sexy “The Sudden Thrill,” performed above by Ed Staudenmayer, and Cornelia’s (that’s Gray’s role) amusing, honest 11 o’clock spot, “How Far Can A Lady Go?,” which is performed below by Debbie Shapiro Gravitte.

There were also a handful of gorgeous duets, like the secondary’s couple’s “The Very Necessary You,” sung here by William Zeffiro.

I’m also partial to Cornelia and the Duke’s soaring “For A Moment Of Your Love,” performed exquisitely below by Rebecca Luker.

Other songs had some delicious cheek, like the Duke’s “You Can Take The Word Of A Gentleman,” heard here in a rendition, again, by Ed Staudenmayer. (Can’t you just picture Raitt enjoying this number?)

In the same vein as the above, here’s Debbie Shapiro Gravitte with a tune for Gray that was cut before the opening, “That Man Is Doing His Worst To Make Good.”

It’s perhaps easy to see why Gray was awarded — she had no shortage of terrific numbers. Here’s another: “I’m One Of Your Admirers,” performed below by Bobby Short.

And we’ll close today with Lena Horne singing the opening number, “Ring The Bell,” introduced by the Mayor (Roberts) and the ensemble.



Come back next month for another Musical Theatre rarity! And tune in tomorrow for more Newhart!