Wednesday, July 2, 2008

ROSE OF THE DANUBE

Undated, but I would guess to be from around 1930, this is actually a charming little romance with more than a little Hollywood satire slathered on. It takes place in the tiny European country (arent they all?) of "Eurolania", a country so small and desperate for money that the rulers have to wash their own dishes and do their own laundry. Eurolania has hocked everything -- castle, monarchy, even the gay and happy peasants -- to the one person that seems loaded with cash: the evil (arent they all?) Count Sergius von Popova. Fortunately for Eurolania, however, it's being visited by the famous Hollywood director, Percival McPipp (a thinly disguised Cecil B. DeMille), who's on vacation after completing work on his latest masterpiece, "Uncle Tom's Cabin", a production so stupendous it required no less than 20 Elizas escaping on the ice (His next, "Robinson Crusoe", will have seven savages, not just Friday, but one for every day of the week).

Of course, being a famous Hollywood director, he always travels with an entourage: his wife, his daughter, a few hangers-on, and a cameraman named Darrell Davis, who always has camera and film ready when McPipp decides to shoot something. Darrell, natch, is our dashing hero (and consequently gets all the great love songs); being the hero, he falls immediately in love with Princess Rose, daughter of King Montmerency. So he can spend more time with his lady love, Darrell persuades McPipp to film an extravaganza right there, right now -- in essence, renting the entire country for the unheard amount of one million dollars, more than enough to pay off the country's debt. Out of gratitude, Rose consents to be Darrell's wife, and they sing about how "only one rose" is "enough for me". The King and the peasants get a rousing production number, "He's Putting Us in the Movies!", followed by *another* rousing production number, "We'll Make a Super Super Special!" that brings the first act to a deliriously happy close.

Ah, but there's a complication: the evil Count (remember him?) doesnt *want* be paid off: he wants Eurolania for himself and plots to overthrow the monarchy and install himself as ruler. Hearing of McPipp's plans to make a movie that involves, conveniently enough, a small European country where the peasants riot and overthrow the monarchy, the Count and his co-conspirators plot to replace the fake bombs with (surprise!) real ones.

Act Two takes place that evening, as McPipp prepares to rehearse the Royal Family and the "angry peasants" in the one scene that doesnt seem to require a script, the attack on the castle. It's also during the country's Rose Festival, so everyone's very jolly and gay. The King decides to get down a little with his countrymen by singing to them that, when the affairs of state are too much to bear, he happily runs off to the "balmy shores of Tanganyka", which engenders another rousing production number: inexplicably, a tango.

The rehearsal begins. The tension mounts. Will the evil Count's plan succeed? Will anyone discover the bombs in time? Will Darrell and Rose find true love? Will the King get his wish to be the star of a super-super production?

Well, of course they do and he does and the plan fails, all easily wrapped up in a few pages of script and a couple of songs. Feeling generous, the King decides the Count's punishment for attempting mass assassination is to marry one of the queen's less-than-attractive ladies-in-waiting. Everyone sings and dances in joy and unbridled merriment as the curtain falls.

Whew. So much excitement crammed into 136 pages! But like I said earlier, it's a surprisingly winning little show, with some rather lovely (if hopelessly derivative) songs that range from a tender little love duet to a frantic (if geographically inappropriate) tango about Africa. The comedy is pretty smart for a show designed for high schoolers, and I'd be curious to know how some of it was received by drama teachers of the time, since some of it's borderline racy.

Now, it may seem odd to start this blog about bad high school musicals with one that truly isnt so terrible, but this is pretty much the exception that, as you will see, proves the rule. Morgan and Penn, the author and composer, clearly put time and effort into this cast-off, and it shows. Enjoy this one: what follows may not be quite so endearing.....

1 comment:

rand said...

An interesting and charming show - it sounds like it would be complicated to stage as a high school production.

I found a link through Google where "Rose of the Danube" was staged by the Calgary Light Opera Company (link).