Sunday, May 2, 2010

THE LAND OF DREAMS COME TRUE

Meant for performance by the lower grades, THE LAND OF DREAMS COME TRUE (1930), by Alan Campbell (with a typically gorgeous cover by Corina Melder-Collier), seems almost a paean to hallucinogenic drugs than anything else.

No, I'm serious. Here's the set-up: some children are out playing when one of them comes up with the idea of everyone going to the Land of Dreams Come True... which they have to do by injesting some "magic berries". Most of the children sensibly say no and run away in horror, while four of them go for it. They promptly pass out and are magically transported to the story book land of Dreams Come True, where they meet Mother Goose, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Jack and Jill, and other recognizable characters. Everyone's partying down when a giant is heard bellowing "I smell the blood of an Englishman!" The storybook characters surround the children and put them back to sleep --

-- and they wake up back in the meadow, convinced they had a swell time and cant wait to do it again...

Hooked on magic berries.

At such an early age.

One can only imagine the personal stories they'll share at their twelve-step program.

Okay, as for the work itself... The intruiging thing about LAND OF DREAMS COME TRUE is that part of the score is written in swing time, which I'm sure must have made quite the impact on parents in 1930. It's not big band swing, obviously, but about as close as you can get with a piano, a juvenile "rhythm orchestra", and singers who are probably about eight years old. Still, it's the first time I've come across this kind of pop music used in something aimed at the lower grades.

And it doesnt stop with swing: Mother Goose's number at the top of Act Two, "Strange Adventures", has a distinctly blues feel to it — to the point where you can almost see her languishing on top of a piano lid, with a bright red scarf dangling from one hand. The polka "Here's the Way We Dance" has a relentless repetition to it that just adds to the overall disorienting feel of things in the Land of Dreams Come True. Campbell does have the obligatory waltz, but you cant help but notice how much he also looks to unexpected musical sources for his score.

Further, the script is surprising in its own distinct way. Consider this exchange, a piece of early 20th century peer pressure:

PEGGY. O Betty, are you really going to eat one of those berries? Arent you afraid?

BETTY. Of course I'm not scared. It's your turn now, so hurry.

PAUL. C'mon, Peggy; be a good sport.

(After much urging, PEGGY timidly swallows berry.)

ALL. Now then, we're ready. (ALL sit down on the ground.)

BOB. What do you suppose is going to happen now?

BETTY. I dont know. Let's wait and see.

One can only imagine as well what ringleader Betty must have done to this pack in later years, when they became her "people". Interestingly enough, when the Giant appears (offstage) in Act Two, it's Big Butch Betty that panics first, crying that she wants to go home.

A bad acid trip, man.....

It's curious, in a way, at how strange and bizarre the operettas for the younger grades can be. Like AT THE RAINBOW'S EDGE and LAZY TOWN, THE LAND OF DREAMS COME TRUE has this near-Fellini-esque surreality to itself: moods shift almost frenetically from happy to morose, bleak to mirthful, without any real reason, and legions of characters roam about the stage for no purpose other than to give everyone a part, no matter how minimal. Whether or not they have anything to do with the play is almost irrelevant; instead, the writers of these mini-extravaganzas seemed to just pull characters at random, as though writing by stream of consciousness.

To their credit, there's a certain deranged joy to these that gets lost as you advance into middle-school and high school works. The stories become more structured; the scores more predictable. But at the lower levels, it seemed like anything goes... even to the point of Mother Goose performed in the style of Helen Morgan in a drug-induced dream.

1 comment:

Kat Myers said...

We did this play back in 1958 when I was in the 3rd grade. Seemed very innocent at the time.