For this January, we’re heading back into some short-form Forgotten Musicals Friday columns. This week, we’re celebrating the anniversary of the Broadway bow of The Toreador. This British musical comedy held the distinction of being the final musical produced by the Gaiety Theatre in London. In England, The Toreador debuted in 1901 and ran for 675 performances, with the Broadway premiere following in 1902 for a 121-performance run. An international success, the show would also be staged in Australia, South Africa, Austria, France, Hungary and Gibraltor.
The Toreador featured a book by James T. Tanner and Harry Nicholls, with music by Ivan Caryll and Lionel Monckton and lyrics by Adrian Ross and Percy Greenbank, all of whom barring Greenbank were established members of the Gaiety Theatre team. This was to be their most successful hit.
Set against the backdrop of Spain’s Carlist Wars, the plot of The Toreador followed Sammy Gigg (played by Edmund “Teddy” Payne in London and Francis Wilson in New York), who gets involved in a bombing conspiracy led by Donna Teresa (Queenie Leighton in the UK and Jennie Hawley in the USA), all in the name of love. Also caught up in the story is Dora, who avoids a blind wedding to Augustus, by disguising her best friend, Nancy, as a dummy husband. Meanwhile, Mrs Malton Hoppings plays off two beaus, while Archie and Susan add to the flirtatious fun that lurks beneath the bullets and bullfights.
While there is no cast recording of the show, the vocal score of The Toreador is readily available. Playing through some of the songs (notably “Everybody’s Awfully Good to Me”), it’s easy to spot the kind of ideas that would be developed in the musical comedies of George and Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter a little more than a decade later. And while the influence of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s comic operas is evident in the score, so is a clear sense of movement into the musical comedy style that the Gaiety Theatre popularised in the United Kingdom. The Toreador is also a fantastic example of how the Ned Harrigan and Tony Hart musical comedy popularised in the United States developed into a form that is more recognisable to us today. (One also has to credit the composer of the Harrigan and Hart shows, David Braham, as a fundamental part of this journey.)
While The Toreador is perhaps not much more than a footnote in musical theatre history, it seems as though it was a great show in its time, certainly one that is interesting to read about and consider in the context of the development of musical theatre over the past 150 years.