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The Glorious Ones

The Glorious Ones

One Act Musical: Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, based on the novel by Francine Prose; Music by Stephen Flaherty

Produced by Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre
11th October, 2007 - 6th January, 2008 (48 perfs)

Premiered at the Pittsburg Public Theatre, 19th April, 2007


Both slapstick and serious, the musical follows a travelling band of actors in 16th century Italy, as they search for immorality and love, on a journey that leads right to present day. Its seven archetypal characters are the charismatic leading man, the sly harlequin, the quack "dottore", the old miser, the voluptuous leading lady, the devoted dwarf, and the elegant Moon Woman.


As the curtains part, SEVEN ACTORS appear in commedia dell'arte costumes, on a little stage, moving in a dreamlike recreation of their old roles. FLAMINIO SCALA, the leader of the troupe, begins the story, transporting us back to a beautiful spring day in Venice.

Suddenly, we are on a piazza, as the Glorious Ones, set up a stage and introduce us to their bawdy style of comedy. ("The Glorious Ones"). They tell us that much of their comic routines were improvised, and Flaminio Scala illustrates with a slapstick version of his early life, in which he demonstrates how he was raised by monks and later thrown onto the street. There, the endless parade of humanity inspires him to create a new kind of theater--masked the commedia dell'arte.

We meet Armanda Ragusa, a dwarf, who is madly in love with the dashing Flaminio. She steals little mementos of her idol--his lost buttons, one of his old stockings, posters, etc.--and keeps them in a sack under her bed. She and Flaminio rehearse a comic sketch about a little dog. They are interrupted by the leading lady, Columbina, who is Flaminio's mistress. She is sick of waiting for him and sick of his antics. ("Making Love.") By the time the number is over, he has seduced her once again.

We next meet Pantalone, who was once a tailor but now plays the roles of the old misers in the troupe's plays. ("Pantalone Alone.") He and Armanda commiserate about their lovelorn states ("The Comedy of Love"). Dottore Graziano, the "quack doctor" in their skits, has sold Pantalone a love elixir, but it hasn't worked--Columbina still doesn't love him.

Their backstage dilemmas are mirrored onstage in a comic show-within-the show, "The Comedy of Love," in which Flaminio Scala always gets the girl, after almost committing comic suicide with a rubber sword.

The next day, Flaminio Scala discovers Francesco Andreini, a talented young comic, who is performing on the street. Flaminio takes him under his wing, ("The Glorious Ones - Reprise") and before long they are like father and son. Flaminio teaches Francesco what it means to be an actor ("Madness to Act") but Francesco lets us know that he's more ambitious than he may appear. ("Absalom.") During the course of this song, Flaminio gets an idea from the many patches on Francesco's clothes--he creates a patchwork costume for a new character--Arlechino, the clown--and gives his young protege this featured role.

The quack Dottore tries frantically to get onto the stage but is prevented by an invisible wall. In mime, he manages to find a way to get through, and then happily insults the audience in Latin. At last he introduces the next adventure for The Glorious Ones--"The Invitation to France," and they embark on a whirlwind trip, filled with travails, to perform for the French Court ("Flaminio Scala's Historical Journey to France"). Flaminio is convinced that their lowbrow humor will enchant the King, make their fortunes, and cement his reputation as a theatrical genius for all time.

Once in France, their performance for the King begins with three vulgar "lazzi" or comic routines, which lead up to the most bawdy piece of all, "Armanda's Tarantella," featuring the little dwarf, all the men, and a series of double-entendres!. But instead of glory and fame, the response of the religious court is to throw them out of France. Flaminio is angry and humiliated before his troupe, but rallies them to his side once again with his artistic vision. ("Improvisation.") The only one not convinced is Francesco.

Lights come up on a beautiful young noblewoman named Isabella. We learn that she writes stories against her parent's wishes. ("The World She Writes.") Francesco notices her and gets her to come down from her balcony. She shows him a play she has written, "The Moon Woman," and soon they have discovered they are kindred spirits, born to play "Opposite You." They elope, and Isabella joins the troupe. All the men are enamored of her. Armanda is jealous, but Columbina understands how men are. In "My Body Wasn't Why," she sings about her passionate love affair with Flaminio, which led her to be his leading lady. But during the course of the song, Flaminio tells her she is now too old to play that role, that he is giving it to the fresh-faced Isabella. Columbina must settle for the role of the comic maid.

The Glorious Ones perform the second play-within-a play. It is still "The Comedy of Love," Flaminio is still the leading man who nearly kills himself, but now Isabella is the leading lady. During the performance, Isabella and her husband Francesco play a trick on Flaminio, and suddenly the clownish Arlechino becomes the leading man.

After the show, Flaminio is furious at the trick, but Columbina tells him to deal with the fact that he's too old to play the role of the lover. She had to. Flaminio has "Flaminio Scala's Ominous Dream" in which he fantasizes that Isabella and Francesco are leading him astray and trying to destroy him.

The actors tease each other backstage. Francesco presents Isabella's play to them, and suggests they try it, implying that their roles will be fuller than the stereotypes they play every night. Flaminio is drunk and enraged by this challenge to his authority. But the troupe votes to try the new play. In his drunken state Flaminio sees the troupe mocking him and deriding his "Rise and Fall." But in the end, he goes along with it, agreeing to play the grotesque, comic character of Captain Spavento.

Before the performance of "The Moon Woman," Columbina and Flaminio prepare to go onstage. Flaminio is depressed, but Columbina suggests maybe they should finally retire and settle down together. "There's more to life than theater," she tells him, and he seems to agree.

The Glorious Ones present "The Moon Woman," now dressed in more elegant masks and costumes. The play is stilted and poetic, nothing like their old, freewheeling slapstick. Flaminio tries to play his part, but can't. He throws off his mask and begins to improvise. The cast can't help themselves--they join him. At last, he pretends to kill himself for love as he always did, staggers around and falls. Columbina falls to her knees, praying comically for him, but suddenly realizes that the blood is real and that Flaminio is indeed dead.

As the actors grieve, mystified by his terrible act, Flaminio rises and looks back on his life, and the beauty of doing something of worth. ("I Was Here").
Armanda arrives at the monastery where Flaminio was raised, bringing with her "Armanda's Sack." One by one, all the Glorious Ones light up, remembering their glory days in the theater with Flaminio Scala.

At last, they arrive in Heaven, where Flaminio awaits them, and we are back to our opening image--stars, clouds, a little stage. They look down through a window in the sky, and see Armanda's sack being disposed of. But they are not forgotten. Instead, a "film projector" begins to flicker, and they see a parade of comic icons--Lucille Ball, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, etc--they realize their comedy has survived the centuries and exists today. The curtain closes as the Glorious Ones explode into joyous peals of laughter.


The Late 1500s and beyond: the streets of Italy


Musical Numbers

  1. Prologue
  2. The Glorious Ones
  3. Making Love
  4. Pantalone
  5. The Comedy of Love
  6. Madness to Act
  7. Absalom
  8. Flamanio Scala's Historial Journey
  9. Amanda's Tarantella
  10. Improvisation
  11. The World She Writes
  12. Opposite You
  13. My Body Wasn;t Why
  14. Flaminio Scala's Ominous DReam
  15. Rise and Fall
  16. The Moon Woman
  17. The Glorious Ones (Reprise)
  18. I Was Here
  19. Amanda's Sack
  20. Finale: The Comedy of Love