Sunday, August 29, 2010


One of the first operettas described in this blog, IN OLD VIENNA (with the subtitle PICKLES) was an immediate favourite of mine, for its almost perfect construction. So imagine my surprise when I came across an eBay listing for PICKLES (or IN OLD VIENNA) that not only had the original creators Benedict, Wilson, and Crane, but now added to that list "edited by Alfred Wathall" and "dramatized by Frederick G. Johnson". That last name is important, because if you look at other entries here that deal with works by Johnson, you find a collection of scripts noted for their off-beat humour. Knowing that somehow he had been roped into working on a possible revision of this already remarkably comic piece was just too inticing.

And imagine my further surprise to see that the cover art had been drastically changed: a more expansive layout, a more detailed illustration... which turned out to be only one of the many alterations that went into this piece when Carl Fischer Inc bought the property from H.T. Fitzimmons. I dont know if Fischer bought the entire HTF catalogue or only selected works, but when they took this one, changes were clearly made.

Naturally, it's almost impossible to know where Wilson and Crane revised their work and where Johnson took over, but they're there. The alterations to the book are slight but develop the already outrageous characterizations even further: Jigo, the evil gypsy father, is now almost melodramatically evil, while his supposed daughter Ilona is even more of a victim of her father's mechanizations. But what's intruiging is how the Jones/Ilona subplot has now been pushed to the forefront, taking the focus off June and Arthur in the process. It's all done almost delicately, which suggests that Johnson didnt want to tinker too much for fear of incurring the wrath of Wilson and Crane for mangling a solid piece of work. But an already polished book is now even tighter.

But the music... Dear Reader, this is where we strike gold. The choral work is now far more layered, with much more parts work, and there's an amazing sextet at the end of the first act in which major themes are played on top of each other in the kind of blend that must have driven musical directors to nervous distraction in performance every night. Benedict's piano arrangements have been reset for four hands in one particular number in Act Two, and his parts work is now given more sweep and (dare I say it) near-operatic grandeur, with -- at one point -- ten harmonic vocal lines. The entire score has been amplified and enhanced; you can actually see that Benedict is taking more chances and, in the process, demanding more of his performers.

Because the original entry was written before I'd really gotten into this, you may remember that I commented that IN OLD VIENNA must have come from a professional production, even though there were no listings for it on Having now seen so many examples of the kind of work this genre was capable of, I'm sure that this, like so many other gems in this collection, was written specifically for high school and community theatre production. But it's still the bar by which I measure new entries to this blog -- and with the receipt of this revision, the bar just went a little higher.