Sunday, December 1, 2013

Babes in Toyland

For many families, a Christmas staple is a story titled Babes in Toyland. For some, it's a play a local theater company might put on. Or maybe it's a movie or TV program. Or maybe it's a picture book or an audio presentation. Or maybe it's a few pieces of music that are heard throughout the Christmas season.

The funny thing about Babes in Toyland is that no two film or TV versions have the same plot. And none of them faithfully follow the libretto of the original operetta.

Babes in Toyland draws off of the nursery rhymes of Mother Goose and some conventional fairy tale characters. The original operetta was whirled into production thanks to the success of producer Fred Hamlin and direction Julian Mitchell's previous wonder: The Wizard of Oz, a musical extravaganza they'd worked with L. Frank Baum on. In fact, Toyland replaced Oz at the Majestic Theater in New York. Even some of the cast members of Oz went on to Toyland.

The operetta's libretto shows that it owes some similarities to the Oz musical with a large, sprawling cast that travel to some fantastic place. The New York Public Library suggested more similarities when they covered the musical. But the greatest difference was the music by Victor Herbert. The songbook from The Wizard of Oz didn't exist because it was constantly revised with new songs being added and old ones dropped. But Babes in Toyland had a more conscious set of musical numbers related to it. Like Oz, many songs were comical, and not all were necessary to the plot. Indeed, after its first tryout, five numbers were dropped, and during its return engagement and second tour, three new numbers were added.

The two musical constants of Babes in Toyland are the song "Toyland" and the theme "The March of the Toys," also known as "The March of the Wooden Soldiers." These numbers have even found life outside of the musical. There was a third quite popular song, "I Can't Do The Sum," but it seems to have fallen out of popularity. A possible fourth is the song "Go to Sleep" which can easily be used as a lullaby.

Unidentified actor, possibly George W.
Denham, as Barnaby
The one constant of Babes in Toyland in all of its incarnations is the villain, Mr. Barnaby, usually portrayed as the crooked man from his crooked house. He seems to be after something in most versions that require him to marry one of the much younger heroines and do away with someone. The heroes and heroines shift in different versions. The original operetta and some TV adaptations include the brother and sister pair Jane and Alan, and along with them are Tom-Tom the Piper's Son (sometimes Tom Piper), Contrary Mary (or Mary Quite Contrary, often just called Mary), Little Bo Peep, and sometimes Miss Hubbard who may or might not also be the Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe.

While looking over scripts for this blog, I discovered that there are two very different scripts that claim to be the original operetta. One seems to be the original 1903 script (containing songs removed before the Broadway debut), while the other seems to be a revision from the 1930s or after. (Mary mentions having toys of Shirley Temple, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.) The plots are largely the same, with some big alterations.

Bessie Wynn as Tom Tom
In Act 1, Barnaby is the uncle and legal guardian of Jane and Alan and he wants them done away with so he can claim their sizable inheritance. He hires Gonzorgo and Rodrigo, two scoundrels, to have the two children drowned. He then throws a party to get in the good graces of Mary, who doesn't attend. Tom, in love with Jane, sees through Barnaby's scheme and decides to look for her and her brother, who turn up in gypsy clothes after he leaves. Barnaby proposes to Mary, but is spurned. As her mother wants her to marry Barnaby, Mary decides to leave to join Tom.
Jane and Alan

Barnaby, finding his niece and nephew alive, has Gonzorgo and Rodrigo take them to the Forest of No Return (or the Spider Forest) and leave them. Jane sees a moth caught in a web and Alan frees it. Alan and Jane go to sleep and are attacked by a giant spider. A bear, sent by the Moth Queen, defeats the spider and it and an Oak tree confirm that Alan and Jane are safe in the Forest.
A Butterfly

Mabel Barrison as Jane
In Act 2, the four refugees arrive in Toyland, but Barnaby and the Widow Piper (and the rest of the children) are also there, looking for Mary to make her marry Barnaby. A puppeteer called Marmaduke disguises Alan, Jane, and Mary as marionettes as the Master Toymaker begins to conspire with Barnaby, who captures Tom. Alan shortly helps the Toymaker's assistant Grumio by marching as the Captain of the Wooden Soldiers. The Master Toymaker seizes Marmaduke's "marionettes," who overhear the Toymaker and Barnaby conspire to kill the Widow Piper's children by giving them toys that will come to life and attack them. (The Toymaker reveals that his kindly demeanor is an act to make children accept these toys.) When the Toymaker puts this plan into action, the toys burn down the Toymaker's castle, killing the Toymaker. Grumio had run off with Mary's sister Jill, Alan had made Jane and Mary leave before the toys were brought to life, and Barnaby, Gonzorgo and Rodrigo had left just before the toys "came to life." Alan escapes the fire.
William Norris as Alan

Amy Ricard as Mary
In Act 3, Alan is condemned to die, Barnaby claiming that he led the "outlaws" that killed the Toymaker. Barnaby says he'll clear Alan's name if Mary marries him. But after she does, he goes back on his word. Gonzorgo and Rodrigo try to assist Alan with suicide by offering him poisoned wine. However, Mary and Tom try to find a widow to marry Alan so he may be freed (if a condemned man marries a widow and supports her, his name may be cleared according to Toyland law). When they discover their own mother married Marmaduke, it seems Barnaby has won, and he comes in to gloat and feign sorrow over Alan's forthcoming execution, but he accidentally drinks Alan's poisoned wine. Dying, he leaves Mary a widow, able to save Alan by marrying him, which she does.

Already, we can see why later versions change the plot considerably. Many parts of it become disturbing as time goes on, and the large, sprawling cast of main characters becomes a little too confusing. In the early 1900s, when this was the big form of entertainment and could go for hours, this was fine. As entertainment developed in the Twentieth Century, more focused plots became more of an important factor.

However, that is not to say that changing the plot is unfaithful to the property. During its first performances, tours, and revivals, Babes in Toyland changed. Songs would be dropped and added and dialogue and jokes changed out to suit the audiences. In later years, stage productions would follow the suit of the film adaptations and create wholly new plots, utilizing as much of the original music as they wanted, often supplementing them with new songs. Thus, the many new versions of Babes in Toyland have been written tailored around the audiences and performers. The big mainstays were the music and some of the characters and settings, especially Barnaby.

Unlike many other popular fantasies of the early 20th century, there were no silent film adaptations of Babes in Toyland. When we consider that the real star of the show was the music, it makes sense that this was not a property that people would be quick to photograph. No film version of Babes in Toyland would be released for 31 years after its debut.

Here's a list of the pieces of music as it appeared in the New York premiere:
Act 1
  • Prologue
  • Don't Cry, Bo-Peep (Never Mind, Bo-Peep, We Will Find Your Sheep)
  • Floretta
  • Mary Mary
  • Barney O'Flynn
  • I Can't Do the Sum
  • Go to Sleep, Slumber Deep
Act 2
  • Christmas Fair Waltz: Hail to Christmas
  • The Legend of the Castle (Our Castle in Spain)
  • Song of the Poet
  • March of the Toys
  • Military Ball
  • In The Toymakers Workshop
  • Toyland (In the early script I found, the Toymaker sings this song, but it seems by the time the show reached New York, it had been reassigned to Tom)
  • My Rag Doll Girl
Act 3
  • An Old-Fashioned Rose
  • Before and After
  • Jane
  • Maybe the Moon Will Help You Out
These numbers were cut by the time the show premiered in New York and do not appear to have been reused in later versions.
  • With Downcast Eye
  • The Men
  • The Healthfood Man
  • If I Were a Man Like That
  • Mignonette
These numbers were eventually added in by the time the show closed again in 1905.
  • Beatrice Barefacts
  • He Won't Be Happy Till He Gets It
  • Don't Be a Villain
Note on the pictures used: these are all from the New York Public Library's collection, aside from the sheet music cover, which was from an eBay auction. Unless otherwise noted, all cast pictures are believed to be from the original 1903 cast.

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