Through the years, a whole series of stage plays, operas and Hollywood films
have given us a somewhat clichéd view of Japan and its culture - the
films include: Sayonara and The Teahouse of the August Moon to
name buttwo. The Geisha was one of the earliest such models. It dates
from 1896 and is very much in the mould of Gilbert and Sullivan's The
Mikado. It was written by Sidney Jones a now very much forgotten composer
whose musical style has long since been eclipsed; yet, in the period between
the early 1890s and the First World War, his stage productions enjoyed
considerable success. They included: A Gaiety Girl, An Artist's Model,
and A Greek Slave (which was a precursor of Sondheim's A Funny
Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). But The Geisha - A Story
of The Teahouse was his greatest success; it ran at Daly's Theatre, London
for an unprecedented 760 performances and in its initial production it starred
Marie Tempest as Mimosa and Letty Lind as Molly.
The Geisha, described as a Japanese musical play, is bright and breezy.
Its musical style of Victorian/turn-of- the-century lyricism, would be swept
into redundancy by the music of 1920s Broadway. From this period, only the
music of Gilbert and Sullivan has survived with much success. Yet once attuned
to its style, listeners will find much to amuse and beguile them.
The story line of The Geisha is one of romantic and comic
complications. The Tea House of the Thousand Joys (run by devious Chinaman,
Wun-Hi) - and, especially, its Geishas are a magnet to visiting English naval
officers led, on this occasion, by Lieutenant Reginald Fairfax who flirts
with Mimosa the Chief Geisha. Fairfax's fiancée, Molly, is not amused
and resolves to teach him a lesson by dressing as a Geisha and surprising
In the meantime the Tea House is threatened with closure by womanising Marquis
Imari, chief of police and Governor of the Province who is determined to
have Mimosa to the chagrin of her admirer Katana Captain of the Governor's
Guard. Many misunderstandings occur before all the lovers are united happily.
The opening chorus, "Happy Japan" is sunny and jolly and reminds one of the
style of the Elgar part songs as well as of Gilbert and Sullivan. Clearly
many of The Geisha's lyrics would be considered politically incorrect today
such as those in the early patter song, "The dear little Jappy-Jap-Jappy"
but they are conveyed with such innocent and irresistible charm that such
considerations can be dismissed. Both Lillian Watson as Mimosa and, particularly,
Sarah Watson as Molly are excellent they enter into the spirit of the work
with enthusiastic commitment and without any trace of condescension. Mimosa's
first big number, reminiscent of the style of Edward German, the charming
"The Amorous Goldfish" has a nice catchy refrain. Molly, in her first number,
shared with Christopher Maltman as Fairfax, remembers her toys in The Toy
and amusingly derides Fairfax for toying with the Geishas. Sarah Watson
immediately shows her considerable comic and mimicking talents which she
later demonstrates to the full when she mimics a kill-joy parrot determined
to destroy the love life of two canaries in the delightful Act II comic song
"The Interfering Parrot". Molly is also given one of the more risqué
songs, "Chon Kina" which she delivers in her Geisha disguise. Lyrics like
- "And if my art entices, Then at extra prices, I can dance for you in quite
another way" may seem surprising but then they were the Naughty Nineties!
Richard Suart is in great form as Wun-Hi singing such tongue-twisting numbers
as "Ching-a-ring-a-ree". Maltman and the chorus have their turn to shine
in "Jack's the Boy" a sly and salty song with an engaging refrain about a
roguish sailor with a girl in every port. The ensemble pieces are very clever
and amusing too. Take the concerted piece, "We're going to call on the Marquis",
when the company plan to have their revenge on the overbearing Police Chief
It has all the hallmarks of the best of G&S and German.
Ronald Corp can add this sparkling album to the growing number of first class
light music albums he has recorded for Hyperion