March 1915 – Rosy Rapture opens in London
J M Barrie is now remembered as one of our greatest writers of plays and the man who gave birth to Peter Pan (1904) but few remember that Barrie had toyed with musical theatre. 100 years ago a greatly anticipated new Sir James Barrie production was about to open. Called Rosy Rapture – The Pride of the Beauty Chorus it was described as a burlesque but would have been better described as a burlesque of revue. It starred the unique Gaby Deslys who, rumour had it, Barrie had fallen for her charms.
Rosy Rapture – The Pride of the Beauty Chorus opened 23 March, the Tuesday following the opening of the successful revue 5064 Gerrard which had a sketch about Barrie and Miss Deslys. It was a book show with music by Herman Darewski and Jerome D Kern who later dropped the ‘D’ and went on to become one of the greatest Musical Theatre composers of the twentieth century. It was written for and around Gaby Desly who played Lady Lil Languor who longed to, and eventually did, return to the stage in a revue. The revue section had skits, songs and burlesques unheeded by the story line. David Copperfield was burlesqued and a skit spoofed an old fashioned melodrama in which an actor, being written out of his part, tried to get back into the plot. Gaby played a little Frech girl in a war-time sketch with an English Tommy. Her tongue-twisting ‘Which switch is the switch, Miss, for Ipswich?’ encouraged audience participation. She danced the fox-trot and a comic version of the polka. Cinematography played an important part (and was blamed for the cancellation of the original opening date) in the scene when Rosy received a message to go home as her baby was missing. The ‘baby’ had set out to help to bring her parents together and, on film, she was seen fighting off brigands and eventually crushing them under her perambulator.
The Times had many reservations regarding the show, but wrote ecstatically about Gaby Deslys. ‘In her gait, in her daring costumes and her daring semi-nudes, in the way she takes the stage, in her whole behaviour. Obviously, irresistibly triumphantly, she is an institution’. But of Barrie – ‘if it weren’t for the name on the playbill and some mechanical jokes on the stage we should never have detected Sir James’ hand in the revue.’ The Era thought it ‘bright and amusing and delightfully played (but) as a contribution from the pen of Sir James Barrie it is disappointing.’ Rosy Rapture was not a success but Miss Deslys took her character on to the Alhambra and joined 5064 Gerrard and made far more of a sensation playing the sketch and Barrie playing herself.
The programme for this show in our archive is for the original opening night which was cancelled.
Sir James Barrie’s previous revue Josephine, a piece in three scenes that followed The Drums of Oude, a drama by Austin Strong, and Punch, ‘a toy tragedy’, also by Barrie. Josephine was a politically satirical ‘revue’, which was passed by the Chamberlain’s office only after altering much of the content and, in particular, the portrayal of certain politicians. Basically, the plot evolved around a family squabble for power. Four brothers, each representing political parties, tried to out manoeuvre each other for the title of ‘eldest’ (i.e. the Prime Minister). Other characters represented countries and causes the brothers aligned with. There was no music, a great deal of satire and only a short run.
The Tribune commented: ‘Of Josephine I despair of conveying the slightest idea … there is no coherent action, and the dialogue is one long series of topical ‘hits’ some of them clear and entertaining, many of them far-fetched and very difficult to follow. … On the whole I think here Mr Barrie has made a mistake not only because many of the little “wheezes” are really beneath his dignity, but because a piece of this nature requires to have a more consistent thread of idea running through it than can be discerned in Josephine such an entirely formless, go-as-you-please entertainment requires music to carry it down!’
Sir James Barrie gave up on musical theatre BUT some of his plays were made into Musicals: Our Man Crichton (The Admirable Crichton), Maggie (What Every Woman Knows) and Wild Goes the Heather (The Little Minister) though no major success came to them.