Saturday, July 19, 2008


I dont even know where to start.

Beyond the usual of singing college co-eds and dancing pirates, I have a few perplexing pieces in my collection: for example, works that show some kind of cultural fascination with Holland. I mean, why Holland? But apparently at some point in time, Holland was all the rage in high school operettas. Others are strange little fantasy pieces that probably would love to be morality plays of some kind, if they could just figure out what moral they're trying to teach. Nevertheless, once you start collecting these things, you see recurrent names and themes, and after a while, you know pretty much instinctively how the latest addition fits into the High School Operetta universe.

Then you get the true oddity, like... well, like XINGABRU (1947).

Written by John Jameson and Ramsay Duff, this truly defies any kind of description, save that you can tell these boys really wanted to be the next Gilbert and Sullivan. Problem was, they didnt understand what made G&S work, and as a result, you can see a little PIRATES OF PENZANCE here and a little UTOPIA LIMITED there, but nothing that speaks in the same bitingly satirical way.

The physical presentation first: it's an odd size. Most of these are rough 7x10; this one is 8x9. Most have typeset dialogue and perfectly annotated music. While professionally printed, this one has typewritten dialogue built around a hand-written score that has the occasional mark-thru and correction. And while most are saddle stitched and stapled, this one is held together by a 1-1/2" piece of bindery tape, as though the entire thing was a short run. It's possible this was written for some special occasion, since there's no price on it, but my research hasnt produced anything more about it. It just... is. The publisher, Eason Printing in Chicago, is now a screenprinting plant -- for all I know, this was their sole foray into a field dominated by Witmark and Hoffman and a couple of others.

And what a foray it is. Set in Africa, the overture is very not-quite-turn-of-the-century, followed by an opening chorus of young girls in sarongs who tell us a lot about what to expect:

Deep in the middle of the jungle,
Far from Civilisation's rumble,

Where the cascades leap and tumble,

O'er rocks and sand,

Where the lion snarls and roars,

Where the wolves and savage boars

Sniff about our very doors:

That's our chosen land.

Who are we? You might well ask,

This lovely band of girls

Living in the savage jungle --

Why we are jungle belles!

Jungle belles, jungle belles,
Merrily we say.
Although we know the pun is bad,

We sing it anyway.

They continue on with their compardery with beast and bird, like the alligator, the chimpanzee, the buffalo, the bear...

Huh? Bears? In Africa?

Well, folks, hang on. The fun's just beginning. They loll around, hoping it's not Monday (because on Monday they curry the zebras) and discovering, with operetta delight, that it's Father's birthday!

All right, sorry, but I have to stop here, because it's important for you to know that the "jungle belles" are *not*, surprisingly enough, black. Despite the fact that this is some jungle in Africa, where the lion shares dinner with the bear, this isnt a tribe, but a family in exile because, when he was a young man living in Sakatoon (that's in Saskatchewan, in Canada), Dad was asked by a neighbour to do some baby-sitting -- and somehow he managed to misplace the child. Rather than face the music and dance, Dad ran off to Africa, got married, and settled down to raise an all-girl family in this happy place called Xingabru. Ah, but the Fates are not to be denied: Dad's conscience has gotten the better of him. He wants to return to Canada, especially now that he knows that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been tracking him all over the world -- "and a Mountie always gets his man!"

Well, everyone leaves to set up the celebration, and who should show up but the Mounties, insisting -- very loudly -- that they always get their man (in case you forgot). They decide to make camp, and the Captain tells his men to dismount and water the horses. When someone points out that they left the horses at dockside when they arrived in Africa, the Captain brushes that aside and tells them regulations must be followed... so, in a Python-esque moment, they mime dismounting and watering their invisible horses. His aide-de-camp, Corporal True, sits on a stump, which turns out to be not a stump but Mignon, the exiled father's youngest daughter (who has disguised herself as a stump, because... well, never mind) -- and they fall instantly and madly in love.

Also in this troupe is Martha, the Captain's overbearing and commandeering wife, who has followed them into the jungle because her husband is always forgetting his rubbers and umbrella, and she *expects* him to follow her orders and wear his rubbers! They, along with Corporal True, underscore this thought with a song:

Every person in this world, they say, must always do his duty
From the ugliest of creatures to those of greatest beauty

But almost every person from Alaska to the Veldts

If given the opportunity would rather do something else.

Well, duty forces us to lurch to the finale of Act One, where the Captain arrests ol' Dad, the Mounties fall in love with Dad's daughters, and... well, the curtain falls. Now one would think that we've resolved all the storylines, right? The wrongdoer is going back to Canada to pay for his crimes, the daughters all get to leave sunny Africa for the Great White North, the Captain will obey his wife and put on his rubbers.

But no.....

Act Two starts with cannibals (It's about time we got something even remotely African in this). One's on a throne (decorated with skulls, I would imagine) while others perform a dance to tom-toms (Think Hermes Pan here.). Everyone says "ugh!" a lot. The reason we've brought cannibals into the picture? Well, as one of the daughters explains:

The cannibals will attack us while we make our way through the jungle, then they will pretend that they're going to eat us, but really they'll let us go, only they'll pretend that we escaped, because really they arent going to eat us at all. Then they'll pretend that they're going to eat the boys, but really they'll let them go, making believe of course that they escaped accidently, and we can go back to our jungle home, and the boys will be so frightened that they'll go away and never come back, and Father will be saved, and we'll thank the cannibals nicely and go about our business. Now do you get it?

No, but... well, no one said operetta heroines were especially bright.

Of course the cannibals (played like Brooklyn mobsters, by the way) have other plans, a bumber crop of "good fresh Mountie and tender maiden". Moral: one should never trust a cannibal.

Meanwhile, the Mounties, accompanied by Dad and the girls, have been on the march... sorta... or, as Corporal True marvels: "Sir, we've been on the march for six days now, averaging fourteen miles a day. Doesnt it seem a bit strange that we should camp in the same spot every night?" Oh dear, they're lost (and apparently they camp every night right next to a cannibal's throne, but that's another plot point altogether, I suppose). But Dad generously offers to guide them back to civilisation, to which the Captain tearfully responds that he wishes Canada had more of this type of criminal. They're about to start again -- this time in the right direction -- when the cannibals descend!

Hello, we are very pleased to meet you
Now we're going to cook and eat you!
So we extend this hearty greeting:
Welcome! Hope you make good eating!

It seems all is lost, but Father comes to the rescue by telling the cannibal chief that when his tribe eats people, their ghosts remain as a result. Five people, five ghosts. Ten people, ten ghosts. This of course completely shatters the tribe's nerve, and they resolve (with no small hesitation) to become vegetarians. They exit in search of -- ugh! -- wild spinach.

Father is now a hero, but the joy of the moment is suspended by the irrefutable fact that he lost that baby. Now determined to help this miserable man, the Mounties try to prod his memory about that fateful day, and he finally remembers putting the child in a laundry hamper... to which Corporal True suddenly shouts: "I was raised by a Chinese laundryman in Saskatoon!" True's parents tried to get him back, but the laundryman refused, telling them "no tickee, no washee!" But no matter: Father is now innocent, Mignon gets her man, and everyone heads back home with much singing and dancing and praises to duty and Canada.

Gilbert and Sullivan must be absolutely spinning.

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