When the great vaudeville team of Weber and Fields broke up, Joe Weber wanted to create and star in something completely different. With a book and lyrics by Edgar Smith, “Dream City & The Magic Knight” came to be, and none other than Victor Herbert was asked to compose the score. It opened in 1906 to great critical acclaim…and then fell into total oblivion. What happened?
Jump to the present. The Ohio Light Opera Company, known for its complete CD recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan and other operettas, now and then resurrects an old Broadway musical. It has recorded a version of this “lost” work on the Troy label. The artistic director, Steven Daigle, explains briefly in the program notes that he has restored a lot of the original show and made several changes.
The show is in two parts or “puffs.” The first tells the story (with resemblance to “Coconuts” and “The Music Man”) of how J. Bilkington Holmes (Nathan Brian) convinces Mr. Dinglebender (Daniel Neer) to sell his farm out on Malaria City, Long Island, NY to make way for Dream City. Among the other are Mrs. Dinglebender (Julie Wright Costa), Nancy (Natalie Ballenger), Amanda (Alexa Devlin), and Seth (Andrew Maughan).
And special mention for the cast of the opera sequence: Elsa (Emily Nelson), Lohengrin (Clark Sturdevant), Ortrud (Julie Wright Costa), Frederick (Adam Smerud), and King (Ted Christopher). Nancy’s imitations of some famous vaudeville stars of the day have little meaning to listeners today; but the original audience loved them.
The second “puff” takes place in the newly built Dream City. Dinglebender is dismayed that he must sit through a very long opera by Wagner called “The Magic Knight.” This spoof of “Lohengrin” takes 30 minutes of playing time—and, alas, is not very funny today, even those familiar with the opera. The denouement of the show is too silly…and I won’t reveal it here.
Although half the running time of the first puff is given to dialogue, the tuneful Herbert songs, especially a ragtime number in the second puff, make it all worthwhile. The critics raved about it when it opened; but Weber tried to bilk Herbert out of his profits, and …you can read about that in the program notes.
The OLO cast is livelier than I have ever heard them, reading the corny dialogue with conviction, if with somewhat slipping accents now and then. Steven Byess seems to be having a grand time conducting and it is infectious. This recording is a valuable addition to the collections of those who love the old musicals that paved the way for Gershwin, Kern, and Rodgers.