Sunday, March 7, 2010

Peter Rabbit in Dreamland

"Peter Rabbit in Dreamland" was a "musical extravaganza and pantomime" run on three different New York City stages in 1915 and 1916. I don't know much about it apart from two stories in the New York Times and some entries in Michael W. Dowhan's Burgess bibliography. Jason Rogers in his book on the New York Globe mentions a Globe-sponsored "Peter Rabbitt" (sic) show that ran for a week. I suspect "Peter Rabbit in Dreamland" is that show.

Here's the description in The New York Times:
Peter Rabbit and his large family, Danny Meadow Mouse, Happy Jack Squirrel, Old Man Coyote, Reddy Fox, Mrs. Bob White, and many others of Mr. Burgess's animal characters scampered about through woodland scenes, revealing in action and rhyme many secrets of the forest.

The story of the daily doings of the Rabbit family was punctuated by songs and evolutions by the chorus. The latter was made up of several hundred boys and girls, some of them just tall enough to toddle across the stage. There were children dressed as wood nymphs, as candy sticks, there was a chorus of bedtimers, another of baby buntings in night drawers and a chorus of sun girls.
Professional "pantomimists" handled the principal roles, including Walter Stanton, a British import. For at least one run, the show also featured a "fashion parade for little girls in which 125 girls will promenade wearing costumes from shops which cater to this class of trade."

H.S. Tibbs wrote the book and lyrics while Ted D. Ward (who had some previous success with his Hawaiian songs) handled the music. In 1916 sheet music and piano rolls were available of the following songs: "Peter Rabbit Hop," "Fashionette," "Bedtime's Drowsy Boat," "The Candy Kid," and "A Toy in the Land of Dreams." Two songs--"Peter Rabbit Hop (Foxtrot)" and "Fashionette"--were recorded by "Prince's Band" for a 1916 Columbia Records release.
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Ad in New York Globe
Judging by the Times description and the song titles it is fairly evident that the show had more to do with bedtime stories generically than it did with the naturalistic spirit of Burgess's animal adventures. I suspect Burgess and Cady had little to do with it except for supplying characters, settings, and perhaps a tiny bit of story. [UPDATE: There is a program of the show in the archives at the Thornton W. Burgess Society; Burgess was surely involved in some aspects of the production] Nevertheless it stands as an early promotional effort leveraging and bolstering the Burgess property (and the New York Globe); the proceeds from the show were donated to charity but the music from the show was aggressively merchandised.

Next: Johnny Chuck in Japan

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