Sigmund Romberg

The Desert Song, operetta

    Description by Rita Laurance

    Desert Song is an exciting carryover from the theater productions of the roaring '20s. It is a three act musical play with an excellent libretto by Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Frank Mandel. The production came at the peak of Romberg's career on Broadway, after the amazing success of The Student Prince and directly before the beautiful and popular musical New Moon. The show features a north African setting, the intrigue of a mysterious Arab chieftain who leads forays against the army in the deserts, and a romance which begins after the abduction of the main heroine. The show became an international success within the first few years of its existence, having lengthy runs not only on New York's Broadway and at London's Covent Garden, but in various theaters in Australia and France as well. Desert Song even became part of the repertoire of the New York City Opera.

    The show began life entitled "Lady Fair," and opened first at Poli's Theater in Washington. When it went to Broadway, the producers changed its name to Desert Song, to capitalize on the exotic and strange locale of the play. The show's opening on Broadway took place at the Casino Theater in New York City on November 30, 1926. Opening night could have been a fiasco: a wooden ceiling beam fell, taking much of the scenery with it, and a donkey in the cast began braying loudly on stage. But the catchy music of Romberg and the excitement of the new play made for a successful evening despite the setbacks.

    Several of the tunes, including "The Riff Song" and "One Alone," have since become standards in the popular song repertory. Desert Song was turned into a movie more than once; in 1929, 1943, and again in 1953 with Gordon Macrae and Kathryn Grayson. Nelson Eddy appeared as the mysterious "Red Shadow," the heroic Arab chieftain in the story, in a television version of the play. There have been many revivals of Desert Song since its inception, and it will remain an important part of American musical theatrical history in years to come.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2014 VAI Audio 1279
    2012 Masterworks / Masterworks Broadway 88725427712
    2010 Hallmark Music & Entertainment / Hallmark Recordings 707902
    2008 Dutton Vocalion / Vocalion CDLF 8134