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no. 302

Saturday, 28 June 2003

Ruy Blas and the Blasé Roué
Gaiety Theatre, London, 21 September 1889

Fred Leslie

Fred Leslie as 'a Scotchman and an Irishman in one'
for the song 'Stick to the Whisky You're Used To!'
from the burlesque, Ruy Blas and the Blasé Roué,
Gaiety, London, 21 September 1889.

(song sheet published by E. Ascherberg & Co, London, 1889)

Ruy Blas and the Blasé Roué, a burlesque by A.T. Torr (the actor Fred Leslie) and Herbert F. Clark, with music by Meyer Lutz, was first produced under the management of George Edwardes at the Grand Theatre, Birmingham, on 3 September 1889 prior to its London opening at the Gaiety Theatre, on 21 September 1889. The cast was as follows:

Ruy Blas Nellie Farren
Don Caesar de Bazan Fred leslie
The Queen of Spain Marion Hood
Donna Elto Letty Lind
Donna Christina Sylvia Grey
The Duchess Agio Uncertanti Linda Verner
Trumpeter Blanche Massey
Officer Alice Young
Don Salluste Charles Danby
Major Domo Ben Nathan
Court Physician Fred Storey

* * * * * * * *

'No one could accuse a certain section of the English people of being undemonstrative on the Saturday night when the Gaiety Company reappeared. People clapped their hands, waved handkerchiefs, hurrahed, shouted, as their several favourites successively appeared. For Miss Farren the gods hung out a banner, "The boys welcome their Nellie," when Mr. Leslie came on they sang "For he's a jolly good fellow," and they applauded Miss Marion Hood to the echo. And the kindly feeling which animated the audience extended itself to the burlesque, which in itself is not the most brightly written, and occasionally flagged. But what of that? there was really plenty of amusement and fun contributed by Miss Farren, who, besides her own character of Ruy Blas, assumed disguises as a Portia, à la Ellen Terry, and is by turns a mashing hidalgo and a crossing sweeper, a Toreador, and a sweep, "My Sweetheart" [i.e. the American actress Minnie Palmer in her most popular role] in white, and a Pauline Deschappelles [a leading character in Edward Bulwer Lytton's play, Lady of Lyons]. Mr. Fred Leslie, after the haillons of Don Caesar, is a strolling player, an artless maid in white, a Scotchman and an Irishman in one, makes up as Madame Katti Lanner [a former ballet dancer, and the ballet mistress at the Empire, Leicester Square, London], and finally as Mr. Henry Irving, and in that character joins in the famous pas-de-quatre from Faust up to Date [the previous Gaiety Theatre burlesque, produced 30 October 1888], with Mr. Ben Nathan as Mr. Wilson Barrett, Mr. Storey as Mr. Edward Terry, and Mr. Danby as Mr. [J.L.] Toole [all popular actors]. Besides some capital solos and pas seuls, Miss Farren and Mr. Leslie have, among others, a taking duet, "Ma's Advice," and a topical ditty, "I've just had a wire," and two excellent pas de deux. Then Miss Marion Hood sang very sweetly "The Song of my Heart" and "In Dreamland," Miss Letty Lind danced a "Toreador Waltz" to perfection; Miss Gylvia Grey also "witched the world with her twinkling feet." Mr. Fred Storey gave us one or two of those eccentric dances in which he is so clever, and there was an admirable "Laughing Quintette." All Herr Meyer Lutz's music is bright and sparkling, the choruses are animated, and are done justice to by a bevy of lovely young ladies in beautiful costumes, and the scenery is exquisite. As to the play on which the burlesque is supposed to be founded, save in the first act, where it is fairly closely followed, we hear but little of it; but for all that the night was a thoroughly successful one. During the short time that the theatre has been closed it has been most artistically redecorated. The scheme of colour is different shades of blue relieved by a slight treatment with dead gold, the whole bearing out the designs on a Persian vase. The upholstery, curtains, &c., are blue, the boxes are hung with papers in harmony with the surroundings, and the house presents a beautiful light and refreshing coup d'oeil. The renovation has been carried out by Messrs. Campbell and Co., under the supervision of Mr. Romaine Walker, and is deserving of the highest praise. Altogether the new Gaiety season has started most successfully.'
(The Theatre, London, Tuesday, 1 October 1889, pp.211 and 212)

Nellie Farren

Nellie Farren as Ruy Blas in Ruy Blas and the Blasé Roué,
Gaiety, London, 21 September 1889.

(photo: London Stereoscopic Co, London, 1889)

'The new medley of song and dance at the Gaiety is called Ruy Blas and the Blasé Roué. for the benefit of readers better acquainted with the language of the Gaul than I am, I may perhaps explain that a blasé roué is a roué, so to speak, who is, at it were, blasé. A little explanation of thee matters always helps things along wonderfully.

Et toi, le dévot du bon-ton,
Qui churches le vrai accent de loin,r> Souviens-toi ceci est un nom
Qu'il faut pronocer avec soin.

And let me write him donw an ass,
Who swears he knows the accent true,
And tells me I should say "Roo Blass,"
Or, otherwise, the "Blazy Roo!"

'The play opens with the rising of the curtain, loud applause, and ironical cries for "the MacDougall." As this gentleman's name is not on the programme – unless his identity is concealed among the nameless ballet-dancers, comprehensively included under the head of "Ladies" – we must look elsewhere for the reason of the "call."
'Mr. McDougall is, or was, a gentleman who has, or had, something to do with the County Council, and nothing to do with theatres and music-halls, and who all at once had, or has, something to do with theatres and music-halls, which was, or is, nothing to do with the County Council. Perhaps I don't express myself as clearly as might be wishes, but anyhow, Mr. McDougall, in his capacity of Censor Morum, is just now the most talked-about man in London, bar none.
'But - revenons à nos moutons - or, rather, calves, for the stage is crowded with them. It is the throne-room of the palace on the twenty-first birthday of Her Majesty Marion Hood, queen of all hearts, and the object of the affection of Ruy Blas. Her Majesty removes the hair-pin that keeps the crown from being blown off her hair, and "stands erect – a queen without a crown," to quote the bard. Then she sings a very pretty songs about "home;" and the way she flings that top-note up to the gallery on the tip of her fingers is very fetching – and it fetches an encore. True, I didn't catch the words very well, but they seemed to refer to a high old time she'd had, which went too quickly.

In Australia they've been picking
Golden fruits in days by-gone;
They've returned alive and kicking -
Kicking, with the accent on!

'Miss Nellie Farren is the Ruy Blas, who loves the queen at a distance – about fourteen yards – or whatever the length of the Gaiety stage may be. In response to a welcome as enthusiastic as any ever heaped on the G.O.M. at a railway station [i.e. the Prime Minister, W.E. Gladstone, who was affectionately known as the Grand Old Man], Miss Farren sings a little song about being glad, very glad, to be back. [These are references to Nellie Farren, Fred Leslie and the Gaiety Company having recently returned after an eighteenth months' tour of Australia and the United States.]

Though we've players by the score,
Till we've hardly room for more,
Yet still there is some one we lack;
And the masher's spirits, glum,
Brighten up now Nellie's come -
He's glad, very glad, she is back!

'Mr. Fred Leslie is responsible for most of the funny business of the play; and let me say right here that it couldn't have been paced in better hands. It isn't his fault that he has to make a lot of puns about nothing, strung together in dialogue equally substantial; and his continuous flow of spirits would make a success of less meritorious plays than Ruy Blas. Personally, I have a strong objection to seeing a man dress himself up in two or three different varieties of female attire, and behave with a by no means reserved comportment; but the views of his patrons are not my views, and if they like it and choose to pay for it, it's no one else's affair – McDougall or no McDougall.
'Mr. Leslie brings down the house with his clever delivery of the inevitable pun; but when, referring to an absent party, he exclaims, "he's a rotter (?)" the enthusiasm was simply wild, and a "bong-tong" [i.e. bon ton, fashionable] lady in a stall near me, with her arms and chest all bare, and nothing on her back but the breath of the pitties [i.e. the occupants of the Pit, which at the Gaiety was to the rear of the Stalls] behind her, nearly fell out of her clothes with laughing. When the humour of the play drags at all, they turn on the ladies with legs to kick the audience into good spirits.

I let off puns, and jokes, and squibs, to show you what I'm after -
They're things to make you hold your ribs, and double up with laughter.
And when you look as if it hurts
To give the grin a lady begs,
I lift a corner of my skirts
And call attention to my – understandings.

'Ruy Blas is written around Miss Farren and Mr. Leslie, and when they are off the stage it's like a rainy day at the seaside. In the last act they have a duet, "I've just had a wire to say so!" in which they burlesque very cleverly the unhappy Salvation Army. To judge from the tremendous applause given to their caricature, the Army doesn't seem very much in favour with the Gaiety audiences, which, seeing that the S.A. is chiefly engaged in furthering public morality, is hardly surprising.

Fred Leslie is certainly worth going to see,
I've just had a wire to say so!
And bright Nellie Farren's as spry as can be,
I've just had a wire to say so!
In the school of burlesque they should both "go up top" -
But it's pretty well time I left off talking "shop!"
And besides which, my Editor says I must stop -
I've just had a wire to say so!

(Pick-Me-Up, London, Saturday, 2 November 1889, pp.70 and 71)

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