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Florodora is an originally British musical comedy that came out toward the very end of The Gay '90s, just before The Edwardian Era commenced. Its book was written by Jimmy Davis using the pseudonym Owen Hall, and most of its music composed by Leslie Stuart. Paul Rubens contributed further songs and helped write lyrics along with Edward Boyd-Jones.

Debuting to great success at the Lyric Theatre in London in November 1899 (it ran 455 times there), it quickly made its way to Broadway, where—at an initial 552 runs at the Casino Theatre—it became the first West End musical to achieve a comparably huge success across the pond as well. Throughout the early 20th century the musical apparently enjoyed enormous popularity, not least because of its would-be famous sextette of dancing "English Girls", who would go on to be immortalised as the "Florodora Girls" on stage and in film—their dance numbers became such a hit among audiences that they came to embody, and even eclipse, the rest of the play in 20th-century pop culture. Today, however, the musical has faded into near-total obscurity, although it returned to London with a brief run at the Finborough Theatre in 2006, and (again across the pond) the Lyric Theatre of San José (California) performed some of the musical numbers in 2009.

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Florodora is named for the fictional Philippine island its first act is set on, home to an eponymous tropical flower which in turn is the source of the eponymous, exquisite perfume, the production and sale of which is effectively monopolised by American industrialist and millionaire Cyrus W. Gilfain. Only problem is, the perfume business wasn't originally his to begin with—it belongs by right to Dolores, the local girl on whom he's set his sights for marriage. Also involves, among others, Frank Abercoed, Gilfain's chief clerk and Dolores' Love Interest—who unbeknownst to the others, is now the new Lord Abercoed, heir to a Welsh castle and title but to very little actual wealth; and "Professor" Anthony Tweedlepunch, an investigator undercover as a sort of charlatan stage performer, hypnotist and phrenologist, who sneaks onto the island searching for Florodora's true heir, on the pretext of planning to pair off all the eligible bachelors and bachelorettes on the island based on the shape of their skulls (itself a pretext for Gilfain to consolidate further control over the island, as he intends to have the farm heads—all girls—to wed his clerks—all men).

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The second act moves the action from the flowery Philippine island to cold Wales, where Gilfain buys out the Abercoeds' ancestral home and intends to marry off his daughter Angela to (Lord) Frank Abercoed, unaware that his corporate sins are quickly catching up to him. Lots of trilling comic opera songs and show-stopping dance numbers ensue in the midst of a zany plot that generally makes sense from a distance, but has a lot of odd—and questionably necessary—twists and turns.

Ironically, despite having been translated into over a dozen languages and performed throughout much of the Anglophone world, it is very little-known in the Philippines, which forms the entire backdrop of the play's first act. It's safe to say very few Filipinos know of the musical's existence today. (Then again, not much of the rest of the world really remembers it today, either.)

Compare The Sultan of Sulu, another, just-as-obscure, turn-of-the-century musical, but an American one, that came out around the same time (debuting in 1902), and which also takes place on another Philippine island. As the title suggests, that musical revolves around the Sultan of the island kingdom of Sulu (a Real Life part of the Philippine archipelago, as opposed to the fictional Florodora; the Sultan himself is also a Historical-Domain Character).


Tropes:

  • Two-Act Structure
  • Advertised Extra: The "Florodora Girls" were one of this play's main selling points to audiences, despite that the girls themselves are minor supports to Dolores at best (ditto with their male counterparts vis-a-vis Frank Abercoed), and only star in two of the play's nearly two dozen musical numbers, including the play's most famous song, "Tell Me, Pretty Maiden".
  • Aerith and Bob: English and Welsh names for the British characters, stereotypical Hispanic names for the Filipinos.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Tweedlepunch, who's come to Florodora to find the true heir to the perfume business and properties—a certain Miss Quisara/Guisara, daughter of a late old friend of his. It turns out Dolores is that Miss Quisara.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Dolores … possibly. The stage directions and dialogue list her as a "Spanish girl" (as indeed are the other girls who head the flower farms, all presumed to be native to the island in some sense), but quite implicitly she was born and grew up entirely in the Philippines, which puts the odds just as much in favour of her possibly having as much native blood, on the balance, as strictly-Spanish blood, if not more.
    • Indeed, anyone in the play with a Hispanic-sounding name could be this (the overseer Leandro, for instance). They could be just as much native-Filipino as actually Hispanic (not to mention all the possible ratios of blood admixture between the two extremes).
  • Aside Comment: Commonly resorted to in the stage directions.
  • Comedy of Remarriage
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Cyrus Gilfain effectively swindled Dolores' family out of the Florodora business and now owns it, and for added insult to injury, employs her on one of the flower farms to boot.
  • Disappeared Dad: Dolores' father, the Señor Quisara who was Tweedlepunch's old friend, has been dead a while. It hasn't helped that Gilfain finagled the Florodora farms and perfume factory away from him and his daughter.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: An American seizing control of a Spanish-Filipina's birthright and the whole island it's built on, gaining enormous monopoly power in the process? Clearly the creators of Florodora were tuned into their (then) current events.
  • The Dragon: Leandro, overseer of Florodora's operations, is a bit of a downplayed example—not quite terribly antagonistic, but he does work for Gilfain, the chief antagonist, and he can be rather belligerent, particularly to perceived trespassers to the island such as Tweedlepunch.
  • The Gay '90s / The Edwardian Era
  • Have a Gay Old Time
  • I Have This Friend...: A variation in the Dolores/Frank duet "Somebody", where Dolores sings about Frank loving, well, "somebody" (i.e., her).
  • Impoverished Patrician: Lady Holyrood. (Lord) Frank Abercoed also descends into this, which puts him directly into Gilfain's crosshairs, as the latter has no title but enough money to buy out Abercoed Castle, which sets the play up for Nobility Marries Money.
  • Latin Land: Warm tropical island setting, very Hispanic names for the locals, and the belligerence of the overseer Leandro all contribute to this perception. (Also has prototypical trappings of Hula and Luaus.)
  • No Communities Were Harmed: One American colonial official in 1914 claimed the island of Florodora was inspired by the Real Life one-province island of Guimaras, off the southeast coast of the larger Panay island.
  • Nobility Marries Money: Gilfain positioning his daughter Angela to marry Frank Abercoed. At the play's end, Lady Holyrood marries Gilfain himself, or at least it's indicated that will happen. Angela herself gets to marry Capt. Donegal, Lady Holyrood's brother.
  • Love Dodecahedron
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Much of Tweedlepunch's antics as a phrenologist and (faux-French) stage performer, among others.
  • Opening Chorus: Basically exposition for the island setting, it extols the charms of the Florodora perfume.
  • The Pollyanna: Dolores.
  • Running Gag: Tweedlepunch presenting his photograph and pocketknife to everyone he meets.
  • Welcoming Song: "Chorus of Welcome" early in Act I, when the whole island welcomes Gilfain back from a trip abroad, to England.


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