George Edwardes

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b. 14 October 1855, Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, England, d. 4 October 1915, London, England. One of the most important figures in the development of musical comedy in England, Edwardes began his career…
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b. 14 October 1855, Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, England, d. 4 October 1915, London, England. One of the most important figures in the development of musical comedy in England, Edwardes began his career in the Victorian era and by the time of his death in the reign of King George V his Gaiety Theatre was practically synonymous with the new era. Inspired by changes taking place in musical theatre in the USA, Edwardes was himself innovative and far-sighted and had a good ear for new writing and performing talent. Previously a manager with Richard D’Oyly Carte’s opera company, Edwardes joined the Gaiety under producer John Hollingshead. Edwardes was 30 when Hollingshead retired and he took over. At the Gaiety and also at Daly’s Theatre, Edwardes presented an eager public with one escapist fantasy after another. A standard plot line had a poor young girl rising to high social station through true love. Director of many of Edwardes’ shows was J.A.E. Malone, and among numerous composers and lyricists were Ivan Caryll, Percy Greenbank, Basil Hood, Sidney Jones, Adrian Ross, Paul Rubens and Howard Talbot. Male singers who appeared in Edwardes’ shows included George Carvey, Hayden Coffin, J. Edward Fraser, George Grossmith Jnr. and Harry Welchman. Among the young women were Phyllis Dare, Cicely Courtneidge and Lilian Eldée. Most notable of Edwardes’ protégés were composer Lionel Monckton and singer Gertie Millar. Although Edwardes’ formulaic shows were pure fantasy, the Gaiety Girls were often besieged by upper-class ‘stage door Johnnies’. A few of the girls even married into the aristocracy thus turning Edwardes’ fantasies into self-fulfilling prophecies. Millar, for example, became Lady Dudley in real life.

Edwardes’ shows, the titles of which often pre-assured audiences of what they were about to see, included The Shop Girl (1894), The Circus Girl, The Geisha (both 1896), A Country Girl (1902), Our Miss Gibbs (1909), The Arcadians (also 1909), The Quaker Girl (1910), and The Girl From Utah (1913). Among Edwardes’ shows that were staged on Broadway, usually in the year following their London opening and in collaboration with American producer Charles Frohman, were The Arcadians, The Quaker Girl and The Girl From Utah. Although principally and rightly remembered for his trademark shows, Edwardes also presented to London audiences some of the European operettas he was supplanting, among them The Merry Widow (1907), The Dollar Princess (1909) and The Count Of Luxembourg (1911).