Under The Duvet Productions

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Broadway Flashback 1954: House of Flowers— Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Juanita Hall, Carmen de Lavallade, Alvin Ailey & Geoffrey Holder by Lisa Pacino

The original Broadway musical House of Flowers by Truman Capote starred Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Juanita Hall, Carmen de Lavallade, Alvin Ailey (who founded Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater), Geoffrey Holder, Ray Walston, Miriam Burton, Hubert Dilworth (who became the manager of opera soprano Leontyne Price), and Arthur Mitchell (who co-founded Dance Theatre of Harlem). It opened at the Alvin Theatre in New York on December 30, 1954 and closed on May 21, 1955 with a total of 165 performances.


Carmen de Lavallade, Nicole Ari Parker, and Diahann Carroll, backstage, Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, 2012. Photograph by Lisa Pacino.

House of Flowers is a musical by Harold Arlen, both music and lyrics, and Truman Capote lyrics and book, based on his own short story, first published in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1958. This was Capote’s only musical, and is the first theatrical production outside of Trinidad and Tobago to feature the new Caribbean instrument – the steel pan. It’s set in an Island somewhere in the French West Indies during a Mardi-Gras weekend. It was produced by Saint Subber who was also responsible for Kiss Me, Kate and seven plays by Neil Simon. The director was Peter Brook. Dance arrangements were by Peter Matz; choreographed by Herbert Ross; banda dance choreographed by Geoffrey Holder; George Balanchine was the choreographer for the film version. The music director was Jerry Arlen; music orchestrated by Ted Royal; vocal arrangements by Peter Matz; scenic design by Oliver Messel; costume design by Oliver Messel; and lighting design by Jean Rosenthal.

Fun Facts: In 2010, in a NPR interview, Maya Angelou explains why she turned down a role in House of Flowers:  “Well, I was a dancer who could sing a bit. And the dancer, the principle dancer was leaving the company. So when the company came to San Francisco in 1954, I was singing in a nightclub and some of the artists saw me and they asked if I could dance on the stage. So, of course, I mean, that’s what I really had trained to do. And they invited me to take the role. I couldn’t because I was under contract. And then I was offered a role in a Broadway play called House and Flowers. So I went to New York to audition for it. And while I was there, Porgy and Bess called me and asked, would I like to join them in Portland, Maine, and then go overseas. And I said yes. The producers of House and Flowers asked me, are you crazy? You’re going to take a minimal role in a play going on the road when we’re offering you a principle role for a Broadway play? I said, I’m going to Europe. I’m going to get a chance to see places I ordinarily would never see, I only dreamed of in the little village in Arkansas in which I grew up. Oh, no, I’m going with Porgy and Bess.”


In the early 1950s Truman Capote became further involved in the performing arts. He was approached once again by producer Saint Subber, who was interested in his recent story House of Flowers: would he be interested in adapting the work as a musical play for Broadway? Despite the difficulties they had had in turning The Grass Harp into a stage play, Capote agreed for a second time to collaborate with producer Saint Subber and set to work. Much of the writing was done in the Italian fishing village of Portofino; but Capote and Jack Dunphy found time to travel to Switzerland and Paris before turning to America, where Capote met again with producer Saint Subber and continued his work in the musical. After a Philadelphia try-out, the show opened on Broadway on December 30, 1954 at the Alvin Theatre and played for 165 performances. The director was Peter Brook. The cast included Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Juanita Hall, Ray Walston, Carmen de Lavallade, Alvin Ailey and Geoffrey Holder. Dance arrangements by Peter Matz; choreographed by Herbert Ross; banda dance choreographed by Geoffrey Holder; George Balanchine was the choreographer for the film version. The music director was Jerry Arlen; music orchestrated by Ted Royal; vocal arrangements by Peter Matz; scenic design by Oliver Messel; costume design by Oliver Messel; lighting design by Jean Rosenthal. The dance-rhythm infused score has been praised for its mix of blues and calypso. Most of the original orchestral score by Ted Royal has been lost, but the piano score survives. Oliver Messel won the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design, the show’s only nomination. Michael Alexander was the lead player of the steel-drum threesome, the members of which were recruited from Trinidad by cast member Geoffrey Holder. The three pannists were Michael Alexander, Roderick Clavery and Alphonso Marshall. The original cast recording includes “A Sleepin’ Bee” and “Don’t Like Goodbyes.”
Pearl Bailey and her husband drummer Louie Bellson backstage, House of Flowers Jan. 22, 1955.

Pearl Bailey and her husband drummer Louie Bellson, backstage at House of Flowers, NY, January 22, 1955.


Pearl Bailey studio promo, 1950s.

Complete Cast: Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Juanita Hall, Carmen De Lavallade, Alvin Ailey, Geoffrey Holder, Arthur Mitchell, Hubert Dilworth, Miriam Burton, Ray Walston, Dino DiLuca, Leu Comacho, Joseph Comadore, Solomon Earl Green, Dolores Harper, Winston George Henriques, Phillip Hepburn, Louis Johnson, Cristyne Lawson, Mary Louise, Don McKayle, Mary Mon Toy, Ada Moore, Enid Mosier, Walter Nicks, Frederick O’Neal, Albert Popwell, Don Redman, Pearl Reynolds, Sabu, Margot Small, Rawn Spearman, Herbert Stubbs, Glory Van Scott, and Bill Sharron.


Diahann Carroll, New York, March 14, 1955. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten.


Broadway’s House of Flowers original playbill.

Pearl Bailey (March 29, 1918 – August 17, 1990) was an American actress and singer. After appearing in vaudeville she made her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman in 1946. She won a Tony Award for the title role in the all-black production of Hello, Dolly! in 1968. In 1986, she won a Daytime Emmy award for her performance Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale. Her rendition of “Takes Two to Tango” hit the top ten in 1952. She received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 1976 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom on October 17, 1988.

Diahann Carroll (born Carol Diahann Johnson, July 17, 1935) is an American television and stage actress and singer known for her performances in some of the earliest major studio films to feature black casts, including Carmen Jones in 1954 and Porgy and Bess in 1959, as well as her many roles on Broadway. In 1968, she starred in the television series Julia; she was the first to portray a black woman in a non-stereotypical role on an American television series. It was followed by her portrayal of Dominique Deveraux in the prime time soap opera Dynasty. She is the recipient of numerous stage and screen nominations and awards, including a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical No Strings in 1962, Golden Globe Award for Best Actress In A Television Series in 1968, and inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011.

Lisa Pacino and Under The Duvet Productions are based in New York. Photography services are available worldwide. If you wish to book photography services, receive information, and/or license images for commercial and/or promotional use please E-mail: UnderTheDuvetProductions@gmail.com

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Sources: IBDB Internet Broadway Database, The Broadway League, Wikipedia

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This entry was posted on February 7, 2017 by in Academy Awards, After Party, Awards, Black Broadway, Black History, Black Hollywood, Black Tie Events, Broadway, Canon, Celebrities, Celebrity Photojournalist, Emmy Awards, History, Lisa Pacino, Music, New York, Photography, Red Carpet, Theatre, Theatre (Broadway & Off-Broadway), Tony Awards, Under The Duvet Productions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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