Daily Chronicle, May 14, 1904
“The Prince of Pilsen” as a Bold Gamble.
ITS AMERICAN SUCCESS.
NEW YORK, April 28.
It behoves one in these strenuous days “to climb in sharp on time,” as our American citizens have it, and to report events a week or so before they take place. It was for this reason that I visited “The Prince of Pilsen” last night. The New York run of the piece is over, and the next performance will be given at the Shaftesbury Theatre on Saturday, May 14. First-nighters and others may be glad of a few words in season on the subject of the intricacies of the piece.
People in New York are taking a good deal of interest in the prospects of the “Prince” in London. The general impression is that if the London public can appreciate this they can appreciate anything, however typically American, for not since the “Belle of New York” has a play been seen in London so thoroughly Yankee. The success of “The Prince of Pilsen” will probably lead to a deluge of plays of a similar kind.
Those Americans who have been in London are inclined to prophesy failure, for this reason: that all the “good things” of the piece, which bring down the house over here, will not bear transplanting. They will be too cryptic for the English playgoer. To take an instance: Mr. Ransome, who plays the leading comic part (that of Hans Wagner, a Cincinnati brewer, travelling abroad), tickles the New York audience enormously with the simple phrase, “Vas you ever—(a long pause; then con molto exprezzione)—in Cincinnati?” People laugh till they cry at it. They watch Mr. Ransome’s face till a particularly frank and child-like smile begins to spread over it. Then they know the epoch-making question is coming again. They wait for it in dead silence, then rock helplessly in their seats.
I seem to see the blank dismay of the Shaftesbury audience as they try to grapple with this conundrum. It is only fair to the actor to assure the public that this jest really is funny, though they may not think it. The fat, prosperous German-American brewer of Cincinnati is a distinct and recognised type on this side, and Mr. Ransome acts him to the life. It would be a pity if the audience were to undervalue this part, and mistake it for a mere aimless piece of foolery. It is a fine character-study, as clever and exact as Mr. Sullivan’s “Polite Lunatic” in the “Belle of New York.” It should be noted, in passing, that, though the Cincinnati brewer and the Polite Lunatic both speak a German-English dialect, they are perfectly distinct types.
This part, Hans Wagner, is one of the things which make the success of the “Prince of Pilsen” problematical. In the States the burden of the play has rested mostly on the Cincinnati brewer. If that part is going to miss its mark in London, the play may collapse like a pack of cards.
Another of the “big things” of the “Prince” is the song of the cities. But though this is even more American than the brewer, I think it is likely to be a hit, on account of its originality. There has been nothing quite like it, in musical comedy up to date. At Daly’s last night the audience could not have enough of it. There are nine verses, each with a dance after it, and they encored each verse three times. The last verse, dealing with New York, was recalled five times, and even then the gallery showed signs of wanting more. It is certainly attractive, and in America was bound to succeed. Whether London will feel the same interest in the detailed account of the characteristics of the nine great cities of the United States remains to be seen.
The arrangement of the song is on the following lines:—Nine of the ladies of the cast represent the nine cities. They are introduced one by one by the leading lady, and each (assisted by the full strength of the company) dances the dance characteristic of her city. Thus “Priscilla Plymouth, of Boston” trips to the strains of “Yankee Doodle”; for “Dollie Dixie, of New Orleans” the orchestra play “Dixie.” “Dixie” is a safe card to play in New York. It acts on the American mind like an electric shock. Sober business men wave their arms and shout madly when they hear it.
The third prop of the piece is the “Heidelberg” song. There will be no diversity of opinion about this. It will go. It is an unaccompanied octette for male voices, not unlike the numbers which Sullivan wrote so beautifully. There is in it the slightest reminiscence of the “I hear the soft note of an echoing voice” of “Patience” fame. Of the other songs, which are of the customary Gaiety type, the best are, “Walk, mister, walk” (a lively rag-time number), “The Widow,” “The Message of the Violet,” and “The Tale of a Sea Shell.” The chorus, as is usual in American plays, do their work with immense vigour, and seem to enjoy the piece as much as if they had been given free stalls.
I went round to see Mr. Ransome after the performance, to ask whether he intended to Anglicize the piece at all with a view to making its humour a little easier for the British mind. No. Mr. Ransome has a high opinion of the British mind. “I am not going to alter a single line,” he said. “It’s a gamble, of course, but if it does not succeed, it can’t be helped. Mr. Musgrove wanted a typical American piece, and this is it. I think it would be an insult to the English audience to explain one’s jokes. They are intelligent people, and will understand them without explanation.” The only new things in the play will be the dresses, which are being made in London now.
An interesting fact in connection with the “Prince of Pilsen” is that both Mr. Ransome and Mr. MacDonald, who is the Prince, have played their parts for two years without losing a performance. On one occasion Mr. Ransome left the western company at Chicago on Saturday night after the piece was over, and was playing with the eastern company at Boston on the Monday. This is good going.
P. G. WODEHOUSE.