The American composer, Victor Herbert (1859-1924), is best known for his many Broadway-premièred operettas. One of his most successful works (and Herbert’s first major hit) was Babes in Toyland (1903) which he wrote in conjunction with librettist Glen MacDonough in a bid to cash in on the extraordinary success of the 1902 stage musical The Wizard of Oz.
Despite its Christmas theme (weaving together various characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes) the original, extraordinarily lavish production opened in Chicago in June 1903 before transferring to New York’s Broadway and followed by numerous tours.
Over the years many versions of Babes in Toyland have been produced for the stage and screen including a film starring Laurel and Hardy (1934), the Christmas day broadcast of Shirley Temple’s Storybook (1960), a 1961 Walt Disney Christmas film and, in 1986, another film version featuring Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves. Whilst some stuck quite closely to Herbert’s original score, in others many of the original numbers were cut – although the March of the Toys (an instrumental number from the middle of Act 2 in the show) does invariably feature. Reminiscent of Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette, musically speaking it does what it says on the tin!