Late last year, Stage Door Records reissued the London Studio Cast Recording of David Heneker’s musical Jorrocks, originally released on the Saga Records label. Now, Stage Door is returning to the Saga vaults with another CD premiere, this time of the label’s 1967 recording of the classic operetta The Desert Song.
The Desert Song has endured since its Broadway debut in November 1926. The production began its life under the title Lady Fair for tryouts in Wilmington and Boston before making its way to New York where it ultimately ran for 471 performances at three Broadway theatres. With a book by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, and Frank Mandel, and a score by composer Sigmund Romberg, Hammerstein, and Harbach, The Desert Song was characterized by lush romanticism and high adventure in its African setting. The plot was inspired by the 1925 Riffs uprising in which a group of Moroccan fighters challenged French colonial rule. In the musical, the leader was the dashing, masked Red Shadow who falls in love with the winsome Margot. It was revived on Broadway in 1946 and again in 1973. Warner Bros. filmed it three times – in 1929, 1943, and 1953 – with varying degrees of fidelity to the source material.
In London, The Desert Song met with similar success, opening at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in April 1927 and running for 432 performances. Three West End returns followed in the 1930s alone. Saga’s 1967 Studio Cast Recording was inspired by the West End revival that year which played the Palace Theatre. While Saga was a budget label, it employed top-notch performers and orchestras to bring its show recordings to life. For The Desert Song, Saga tapped a cast drawn from past U.K. touring productions of the operetta.
Mary Millar, as Margot, played the role on two tours of Great Britain in 1957 and 1959 (opposite John Hanson and Bruce Trent, respectively). Millar enjoyed a long career including such highlights as the original Broadway cast of Camelot (in which she understudied Julie Andrews), the original London cast of Phantom of the Opera as Madame Giry, and the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances. Australian actor Robert Colman sang the role of Pierre (a.k.a. The Red Shadow); a veteran of West End productions including Camelot, Colman also played his part on numerous tours. Ivor Danvers, Betty Winsett, Gordon Trayner, Ted Gilbert, Paul Bretton, and Janet Gale completed the cast while conductor Ray Cook led the Westminster Sinfonia.
The Desert Song has been freshly remastered from the original Saga master tapes housed at the British Library. The album has been expanded with the original 1927 London Cast Recordings starring Edith Day and Harry Welchman. These eight songs were originally issued on four 80 RPM records by the U.K. Columbia label and mark the first cast recordings of The Desert Song, as the original Broadway cast was not recorded. They feature the theatre orchestra led by Herman Finck. One can safely expect these vintage tracks to appear their best fidelity yet. Rounding out the set are two more bonus solos from vocalist and Desert Song revival mainstay John Hanson.
Stage Door’s reissue is due on February 12 at Amazon internationally but copies are already dispatching now directly from the label. This release is strictly limited to 500 copies. You’ll find the track listing and pre-order links below!
- The Riff Song – Robert Colman, Chorus
- French Military Marching Song – Mary Millar, Chorus
- Romance – Mary Millar
- Then You Will Know – Mary Millar, Robert Colman
- I Want a Kiss – Paul Bretton, Mary Millar, Robert Colman
- It – Ivor Danvers, Janet Gale, Chorus
- The Desert Song – Robert Colman, Mary Millar
- Song of the Brass Key – Betty Winsett, Chorus
- One Good Boy Gone Wrong – Ivor Danvers, Betty Winsett
- One Flower in Your Garden/One Alone – Ted Gilbert, Robert Colman, Chorus
- The Sabre Song – Mary Millar, Robert Colman
- One Alone – Harry Welchman, Chorus (Columbia 4387, 1927)
- The Riff Song – Harry Welchman, Chorus (Columbia 4387, 1927)
- Romance – Edith Day, Chorus (Columbia 4388, 1927)
- The Sabre Song – Edith Day (Columbia 4388, 1927)
- It – Gene Gerrard, Chorus (Columbia 4389, 1927)
- Eastern and Western Love – Dennis Hoey, Sidney Pointer, Drury Lane Male Chorus (Columbia 4389, 1927)
- The Desert Song – Edith Day, Harry Welchman (Columbia 9211, 1927)
- French Military Marching Song – Edith Day, Chorus (Columbia 9211, 1927)
- One Alone – John Hanson (from Oriole EP 7004, 1957)
- The Desert Song – John Hanson (from Oriole EP 7004, 1957)