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Review of the Production from The Times
Thursday, March 26 1868

At last Mr. Burnand’s burlesque, Black-eyed Susan, which with its run for 18 months seemed to have become one of the fixtures to the boards of the Soho Theatre, has been removed from the bills, and a new burlesque, written by Mr. W. S. Gilbert, and called the Merry Zingara, supplies its place. The title is suggestive of numerous sources, since many are the gipsy damsels who have been seen upon the stage, and all of these have been more or less merry till towards the end of the story, when most of them have come to a grief which has been rendered transient by dramatic justice, always tempered by mercy. However, the particular Zingara selected by Mr. W. S. Gilbert is the Bohemian Girl, who gives the title to Mr. Balfe’s opera, and the libretto which the late Mr. Alfred Bunn based upon the already known ballet, the Gipsy, is closely followed.

The music, on the other hand, is treated freely enough. Snatches of Mr. Balfe’s melodies are heard from time to time, more frequently in the orchestra than on the stage, but the single air that keeps its dramatic position is that of the “Fair Land of Poland,” in which, when the folks of the present generation were considerably younger, Mr. W. Harrison used nightly to earn the honours of a double, if not a treble, encore. Mr. W. S. Gilbert, however, shows in his last work, as in La Vivandière, which is still attractive at the new Queen’s Theatre, that he is fastidious on the score of music, and consequently anxious to make the theatre, even when employed for the purposes of burlesque, as little as possible the reflex of the music-hall. The songs are merry enough, the dances, capitally executed, are sprightly, and there is a so-called “break-down,” which, thrice repeated, promises to rival the reputation of that famous “Pretty Seeusan, don’t say no,” of which such accurate statistical accounts were published during the run of Mr. Burnand’s burlesque.

But altogether the endeavour of the author to stop short of an extreme popularity, and to give to burlesque something like a tone of distinction, is evident throughout. His writing is at once made remarkable by the polish of the verse and the ingenuity of the puns, which may remind some of the manner of the late Mr. G. A. à Beckett. As to an admirable specimen of its kind, reference may be made to a speech put into the mouth of the Gipsy Queen, in which a long series of absurd truisms is produced by a dextrous employment of the same word, first in its primitive, afterwards in its derived sense.

The personages whom Mr. Gilbert has chosen to present under an exceptionally grotesque aspect are Count Arnheim and the gipsy captain Devilshoof. Of these the former is a philanthropic magistrate, termed by the bills the “poetic justice of the piece,” whose lips overflow with satirical expressions of benevolence. Mr. Dewar, whose mission it is to embody and highly colour the more eccentric oddities of burlesque, and whose Captain Crosstree was the most striking figure in Black-eyed Susan, finds himself well-placed as the representative of this character, whom, in the latter scenes, grief for the loss of Arlene has transformed into a semblance of Mr. Bandmann’s Narcisse. Devilshoof, on the other hand, is converted by Mr. Danvers into a sort of Mephistopheles.

Less grotesque is the Gipsy Queen, who is endowed with mock tragedy qualities by Miss Charlotte Saunders, and to whom a new interest is given in the end by the ridiculous discovery that she is the very long-lost wife of Count Arnheim. At the head of the more picturesque personages are Miss M. Oliver as Arline and Miss A. Collinson as Thaddeus, who act, dance and sing with the unflagging spirit that contributed so greatly to the enduring vitality of Mr. Burnand’s burlesque.

The scenery by Mr. Cuthbert is of higher pretension than has yet been attempted in the theatre, and our fathers would have wondered at the skill with which large architectural pictures are exhibited on so small a stage. Both decorations and costumes are in perfect accordance with the general elegance of the piece, for which a long and successful “run” may safely be predicted.

Mr. Andrew Halliday’s interesting drama Daddy Gray still retains possession of the stage.

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