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Flowers For Algernon

Detail from London production poster

Musical, Based on the book by Daniel Keyes. Book and lyrics by David Rogers. Music by Charles Strouse.

Opened Helen Hayes Theatre September 14, 1980 (17 perfs)
Queen's Theatre, London - 14th June, 1979 (29 perfs)

Produced in America as "Charlie and Algernon"


Alice Kinnian, a teacher of retarded adults, has heard of a new medical technique to reverse retardation which she hopes might help her pupil, Charlie Gordon. She brings the young man to Beekman Clinic to meet the men in charge of the experiment, Dr. Strauss and Dr. Nemur. ("His Name Is Charlie Gordon")

Alice tells the Doctors about Charlie; he is 32 with an IQ of 68, but he can read and write at a third grade level and supports himself as a delivery boy for a bakery. He is also extremely anxious to learn. The Doctors explain their newly developed operation-injection technique. "How many people have had the operation?" Alice asks. They tell her that, so far, it has only been performed on mice, but one of the mice, whom they call Algernon, has had his intelligence increased three fold, and it's still growing." The Doctors think the operation may increase the patient's mental capacity, perhaps to the point of genius, and very rapidly. "And if it fails?" Alice asks. "It could produce no effect at all or his intelligence might improve only temporary. Or," they admit, "it might cause further retardation." They urge Alice to take the risk and give Charlie Gordon a chance for a normal life. Nervously, Alice agrees.

The Doctors interview Charlie who is tense and unsure in the unfamiliar surroundings. Trying to reassure him, the Doctors ask him to look upon them as friends. ("I Got a Friend") Charlie is given a Rorschach test and runs a maze in a race against Algernon, the mouse, which he loses. Impressed by his desire to get smart the Doctors decide to operate. "I'm gonna get smart," Charlie proudly tells Miss Kinnian, then asks, "When?" ("Some Bright Morning")

After the operation, the Doctors continue their treatment, they ask Charlie to write Progress Reports and give him a "teaching machine." "Before you sleep," they tell him, "the machine will teach your conscious mind. While you sleep it will stir up memories in your subconscious mind." "Holy smoke," Charlie says naively, "if 1 gotta get smart for two minds, I'll never get smart!" As he sleeps the machine brings to his mind his boss from the bakery, warm, motherly Mrs. Donner and his two teasing co-workers, Gina and Frank. ("Our Boy Charlie") Waking, Charlie tells the Doctors he knows how to run the mixing machine Realizing he could never do this before, the doctors begin to hope for success. They test him against Algernon in the maze again and this time, Charlie wins. ("Hey, Look at Me!")

Charlie's intelligence increases rapidly. Alice is brought to the Clinic to help with his education and begins by teaching him English literature. ("Reading")

As Charlie's intelligence grows so does a romantic feeling for Alice. Haltingly, shyly, he asks her to go out with him. Alice, afraid of any emotional attachment at all, refuses him brusquely and when he leaves in confusion, she reasserts her own attitude toward life. ("No Surprises").

Charlie tells the Doctors about a nightmare he has had. In the dream, he returns to the bakery but it is like some strange dance hall. His boss, Mrs. Dormer, is there but she seems to be a cigarette girl. Frank and Gina dance but Gina is Miss Kinnian, too. Finally, Charlie becomes enmeshed in a glaringly lit maze, struggling to free himself as a seductive woman threatens him sexually. ("Midnight Riding")

Mrs. Donner visits Charlie at the Clinic. Although he is happy to see her, he becomes upset when she tells him not to return to the bakery. "You've changed," she says. "The others . . . they wouldn't know what to make of you. And me? It's not 1 don't love you. It's ... you ain't the Charlie I love." When she leaves, Charlie, feeling alone and lost, asks himself, "If they put Algernon back in the big cage with the other mice, what would happen to him?" Suddenly, he recalls himself as a child observing a fearful argument between his parents over his mother's refusal to accept Little Charlie as he is. He remembers his mother's lullaby. ("Dream, Safe With Me")

Finally, Alice has agreed to go out with Charlie. Returning from a movie, he is exhilarated but nervous, talkative but unable to express what he really wants to say. At last Alice asks him, "Is something wrong, Charlie?" ("I Can't Tell You") Alice begs Charlie not to put their relationship on a personal level. He's changing too fast. "Every week you're a different person," she says. "When you mature intellectually, 1 may not even be able to communicate with you. When you mature emotionally, you may not feel about me the way you think you feel now. I've got to consider myself, too, Charlie." Impulsively, he kisses her and she feels her objections begin to melt away. "Do you want me to go or stay?" Charlie asks. "I want you to stay, Charlie," Alice replies. ("Now")

Charlie tells Dr. Strauss and Dr. Nemur that he and Alice have taken an apartment together. The Doctors object strongly, demanding that he remain at the Clinic. "The experiment is not over. Charlie and Algernon must be kept in a controlled environment." They intend presenting Charlie and Algernon to a conference of the most important scientists and neuro-surgeons in America. "Both of us?" Charlie asks. "Both of you," the Doctors reply. "What is important to Charlie and Algernon is this experiment!" Alone, Charlie removes Algernon from his cage. He snaps his fingers and is caught in a spotlight. He snaps his fingers again and a spotlight hits Algernon turning the darkened lab into a vaudeville stage for Charlie and the mouse. ("Charlie and Algernon")

On the platform at the conference, the mouse's behaviour suddenly becomes erratic; he refuses to run the maze, he bites the Doctor who is handling him. Charlie, at the height of his genius, realizes there may be a flaw in the Doctor's technique; there is a possibility of his own regression. The Doctors deny it, bring the conference to a close. There is one last question from the floor. "Mr. Gordon, now that you possibly face the same regression as the mouse, how do you feel?" Charlie answers, "Frightened." ("The Maze")

Charlie begs Doctor Strauss to be permitted to use the intelligence he has been given to work on the project. Later, he vows to Alice that he will find the Doctor's mistake and correct it. I won't go back, Alice," he tells her. "I won't let the old Charlie take it all away . . . my mind . . . my body . . . you." "What if you fail?" she asks. "Then 1 have had this much. I have seen and done and lived more than most men . . . and I have known what it is to be in love. I don't regret the experiment. And there is still time." "How much time?" Alice asks. "Nobody knows how much time they have, Alice. There are no guarantees." ("Whatever Time There Is")

In the midst of Charlie's feverish work on the project, Algernon dies. Charlie buries him. He has a sudden, frightening regression, he talks and acts for a moment like the old, retarded Charlie. But he is determined to finish his work. "Don't you smile at me, Charlie!" he yells at some private vision of his old self. "I know you want in . . . but there's only one brain and there's only one body and they're mine!" ("Charlie")

Charlie, completing his work discovers the flaw in the Doctor's theory and how, in time, it can be corrected. It is, however, too late for him. His mental powers decrease rapidly and, not wanting Alice to witness his descent, he tells her to leave. "You promised to go when I asked you. Please go," Before she leaves he tries, with his failing ability, to describe his feelings for her. (I Really Loved You")

The Cast

Musical Numbers:

  1. CHARLIE - Charlie
  3. DREAM SAFE WITH ME - Mother
  4. HEY LOOK AT ME! - Charlie / Alice
  6. I CAN'T TELL YOU - Charlie
  7. I GOT A FRIEND - Charlie
  9. THE MAZE - Charlie
  11. NO SURPRISES - Alice
  12. NOW - Charlie / Alice
  13. OUR BOY CHARLIE - Mrs. Donner / Gina / Frank
  14. READING - Charlie
  15. SOME BRIGHT MORNING - Charlie Alice
  16. WHATEVER TIME THERE IS - Charlie / Alice