Sunday, April 11, 2010


There are some titles that, for whatever reason, I just avoided picking up — no real reason, actually. I suppose more than anything it was looking at the operetta cover and thinking, "Sheessshh, it's like a dozen or so I already own; how many of these do I have to have?"

Then I give in, buy the damn thing — and lo and behold it comes with a surprise.

AUNT DRUSILLA'S GARDEN (1927), by George Murray Brown (who wrote MEET ARIZONA) and John S. Fearis (with a really lovely cover illustration by Doris Holt Hauman), arrived with a treat: a stage manager's guide, something I'd not seen before. In essence, the stage manager's guide is everything you need to know to put the show on without the benefit of a designer or a choreographer or a costumer or even a director. It's all laid out for you, step by torturous step. This one, put together by Clara Elizabeth Whips, contains almost everything, as you'll see below.

But let's go through the operetta itself first. Nelda, who ives in a city tenement with her large family, has been taken in by a maiden aunt who lives on a largish estate in the country. Problem is, Aunt Drusilla has a bit of a reputation as a dragon with the children in the village, so Nelda is left pretty much on her own yet again. She's allowed in her aunt's famous garden and to school, but that's about it.

The last day of school, Nelda gambles on her aunt's largesse and invites her school friends into the garden. Things predictably go awry, and Aunt Drusilla starts to throw everyone out, then proceeds to rip Nelda a new one.

AUNT D. Well, I never! PRU, COME QUICK! The yard is full of strange children, and I who never let a strange child inside of that gate!

at a sight! How'd they all get in?

NELDA. Please dont send them away! I only asked hem in to learn their names and get acquainted.

AUNT D. Stop right there, Nelda Alvenia. When I want you get acquainted, I'll pick out your acquaintances myself.

But she ultimately allows them to stay (just this once!) as long as they watch out for the signs and dont make a mess, all the while reminding them of how much different (and better!) things were when she was a child. Unfortunately, tho, someone picks a flower and someone else steps into a flower bed and things are just awful all around and Aunt Drusilla throws everyone out like she should have done originally and Nelda cries and Aunt Drusilla tells her to man up as she stomps off in high dudgeon.

The kids all come back and tell Nelda they know it's not her fault her aunt is a terror, but she has to shove them all out just before Aunt Drusilla comes back to tend to her garden. Suddenly, a softball comes flying in and, breaking a plant in the process, lands at Dru's feet.

Aunt Drusilla is not amused.

She decides to keep the ball as a punishment, and the boys swear revenge. Once Drusilla and Nelda leave for town, the boys invade. They're just about to ruin the garden when one of them smells smoke coming from the kitchen. Breaking a window, he gets inside to find the stove on fire. The boys quickly put it out, just as Drusilla comes home. Realizing she misjudged the children, she invites them all back on the following Monday for a lawn party.

Act Two is the party itself, with much singing and dancing. Things are going just spiffy when the local postman drops by with a letter from a long-lost uncle, who's made a fortune out west and has returned to put Nelda's family into the lap of luxury, which means she'll be going home.

Aunt Drusilla is sad. But Nelda cheers her up with a masque in which all the children come out wearing flower costumes of one kind or another, because

In the city's noisy street
Gardens have no chance to grow

There the people seldom meet

Pretty flowers they'd like to know

Yet a garden each may tend

Finding joy from hour to hour

If he thinks of every friend

As a rare and valued flower

Everyone may own a garden

If he chooses friends for flowers

Nelda then arranges everyone in a perfectly lovely stage picture and announces, "There, isnt this a nice garden? And we will call it Aunt Drusilla's Garden!" Cue the finale music, please.

Okay, you can see why I might be loathe to put this in the collection. It's meant mostly for the lower grades, with all unison singing — and to be ruthlessly honest, it's just not that good. Little wonder it shows up so much on eBay and some of the other auction sites. But what distinguished this particular copy, dear Reader was...

... the Stage Manager's Guide. These are unbelievably rare, because they would be the first thing to be tossed after a production was finished. They contain detailed notes about the set and costumes, as well as step-by-step instructions for the choreography and particular stage moments. Clara Whips, who prepared this one, suggests a cast of no less than 50 and then lays out how to wrangle -- er, handle -- everyone.

This spread, for example, demonstrates what the local teacher should do for some of the musical numbers, including the geometry of the movement. If you notice, it's all very tightly written, much like we saw with THIRTY MINUTES WITH THE MIKADO. Whips also adds to the cast with a few creative additions of her own, such as the Wild Rose, which she inserts into the masque as an opportunity for a strong dancer to have a solo moment. Whips also extends the number and type of flowers presented by the children, as well as adding an entire additional panto, involving butterflies, fairy sprites, rain drops, a few bees, and the West Wind. I dont know that such augmentation was the standard operating procedure for the Guides, but it'd be interesting to find out.

Whips prepared costume sketches for the masque, with very detailed notes on execution, with an emphasis on the use of crepe paper and cardboard. The sketches, of course, show performers substantially older than the lower-grade children who would actually be performing this. The colour work was done by the previous owner, a Miss "H", who was in charge of the "drills". The cover notes that it's IMPORTANT (with a double underscore) that this be "returned to desk". Throughout the script, there are several pencil notations of cast placement, and it shows that Miss "H" followed the Guide almost to the letter. Good for her!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was in this operetta as a child back in elementary school in the late 40's. The only thing I remember
about it is that I dressed up like a flower. The next year, our choir teacher had us perform another operetta, called "The White Gypsy"