Musical Theatre Historian Dominic Combe looks back at The Lilac Domino

The Lilac Domino is an operetta in three acts by Emmerich vonGatti and Bela Jenbach with music by Charles Cuvillier. The piece opened at the Stadttheater in Leipzig on 3 February 1912. Success in Leipzig was sufficient motivation for the work to be staged in Budapest at the Nepopea (a private company offering affordable access to ballet, operetta and suchlike) on 5 November 1912; however, The Lilac Domino aroused no further interest in Europe.

Two years later in New York, an English language version was written by Harry and Robert Smith with additional songs by Donavon Parsons and Howard Carr. It opened at the 44th Street Theatre on 28 October 1914, and was produced by Andrew Dippel and his Opera Comique Company. This American version was set in Palm Beach, Florida instead of Nice in France, starring Eleanor Painter as Georgine and Wilfred Douthitt as Andre. An innovative feature of this production was a coloured film of the Carnival at Nice, probably for the Carnival scene in act three. Among others of the Broadway cast were: George Curzon (Vicomte de Brissac), James Horrod (Elledon), rene dettling (Leonie d’Andorcer), John E Hazzard (prosper), Robert O’Connor (Coasimir), Jeanne Maubourg (Baroness de Villiers) and Harry Herrosen (Istvan). The production managed 110 performances.

In London, the British rights to The Lilac Domino were taken up by the energetic Joe Sacks who had produced the revue Three Cheers in 1916. Sacks retained the American lyrics, but had them adapted for the London audiences by Shafto Justin Adair Fitzgerald and interpolated a few songs by the musical director, Howard Carr and the lyricist Donovan Parsons. It opened at the Empire Theatre on 21 February 1918 where it settled in until 22 September 1919. After a short interlude, the production resumed at the Palace Theatre on 23 October 1919, finally closing in December that year after a total of 747 performances.

As such, The Lilac Domino came out of the shadows where it had lingered for six years and finally joined the ranks of the major hits of the Great War period along with Chu Chin Chow (2,235 performances), The Maid of the Mountains (1352 performances) and The Boy (801 performances). Finally if you accept the Bing Boys are Here, Bing Girls are There and Bing Boys on Broadway as a trilogy, you have another mega hit running to 1196 performances. Among the favourite songs were ‘The Lilac Domino’ (sung by Clara Butterworth, Vincent Sullivan and R Stuart Pigott), ‘What is done you can never undo’ (Clara Butterworth and Jamieson Dodds), ‘For your love I am waiting’ (Jospenine Earle) and ‘All line up in a queue’ (Frank Lalor and chorus). By the end of 1918 The Lilac Domino was on tour in the provinces.

The next obvious step was to take the show to Australia. Starting in Sydney with Jamieson Dodds from London and a local singer, Rene Maxwell, together with Ivy Shilling, Marie Lavarre, John Delacey, Hugh Steyne, William Valentine, George Gee and A B Majilton. This was followed by performances in the Theatre Royal in Melbourne and subsequently in New Zealand.

In Britain The Lilac Domino remained a favourite with amateur music and opera societies until well after the 1939-45 War and in 1953, H F Maltby gave new impetus with a revised English language book returning the action to its rightful place on the French Riviera. A film version was released in the United Kingdom in 1937 and later in the USA in 1940.

This article by Dominic Combe was first seen as part of the booklet accompanying the Palaeophonics CD issue.

For more details contact                                                      Illustrations from the Overtures archive.