Theatre / The Desert Song

Blue heaven and you and I,
And sand kissing a moonlit sky,
A desert breeze whispering a lullaby,
Only stars above you
To see I love you
The title song's chorus

The Desert Song is an operetta with music by Sigmund Romberg and libretto by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, and Frank Mandel. It premiered in 1926 in Wilmington, Delaware, under the title Lady Fair. Its first performance under the title ''The Desert Song" was at the Casino Theatre on Broadway, starring Vivienne Segal and Robert Halliday. It was adapted into a 1929 movie starring John Boles and Carlotta King. It was also made into a movie in 1943, modernised and starring Dennis Morgan and Irene Manning, which has remained unreleased on DVD or video, and in 1953 with Gordon MacRae and Kathryn Grayson.

The plot can be described as The Sheik, with elements of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It was very topical in 1926 as it was inspired by the Rif Rebellion in Morocco, which had ended the year before, as well as by Rudolph Valentino's sudden death. (Hammerstein and Romberg actually witnessed Valentino's funeral procession outside movie theatres.)

Margot Bonvalet, the female lead, is a beautiful, spirited French girl who has come to a French Foreign Legion outpost to marry Captain Paul Fontaine, the second-in-command of General Birabeau, who she doesn't love. Pierre, the General's Dogged Nice Guy son, is in love with her, but Margot's type is, in her own words, "an outlaw and a ruffian".The Legion is pursuing The Red Shadow, a mysterious, Zorro-like figure who wears a red cloak and mask, and leads a band of local desert tribesmen,the Riffs, against French rule. He's actually Pierre, who's been using Obfuscating Stupidity to hide what he's really doing. Margot and Paul's wedding date is moved earlier, due to the Riff revolt. Paul's spurned lover, a local girl named Azuri, schemes to ruin the marriage by revealing the Red Shadow's true identity. Beta Couple Benny and Susan are the subject of a subplot.

In the climax, Margot is kidnapped by the Shadow and taken to the house of Arab Oil Sheikh Ali Ben Ali, where Azuri leads the General, setting him up to kill his own son or for the Red Shadow to lose the respect of his men by refusing to fight the General.

The stage version contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: The whole point.
  • Altar the Speed: What happens with Margot and Paul's wedding.
  • Arab Oil Sheikh: Ali Ben Ali is a stereotypical one with a harem, fitting the older portrayal. The Red Shadow is supposedly a bandit version of this.
  • Badass Native: The Red Shadow But not really.
  • Bawdy Song: "Let Love Go" and "One Flower Goes Alone In Your Garden" sung by Ali Ben Ali and Sid El Kar (Red Shadow's lieutenant) respectively, in support of polygamy. Also, "It", sung by Benny and Susan.
  • Beta Couple: Comic relief pair Bennie and Susan.
  • Camp Follower: How Clementina and her friends ended up at Ali Ben Ali's. "The soldiers of Spain must have diversion. Every military post in Morocco has its share of rubbish from the streets of Madrid."
  • Cut Song: A few from Lady Fair
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Margot during the "Sabre Song" sequence. "All my secret longing/Wishes that are thronging/Feelings that I vainly try to hide" indeed.
  • Get Back in the Closet: Bennie is pretty much stated to be gay or bi. He's paired with Susan at the end.
    (to Sid): How's everything, big boy?
    Sid: ...What are you doing in Morocco?
    Bennie: Nothing. Make me an offer.
  • Going Native: Partial aversion — Pierre/the Red Shadow spends his nights among his own ethnic group (the French) and sneaks out when he can.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Clementina, a Spanish courtesan in Ali Ben Ali's house.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: A variant — the Red Shadow is left to die in the desert for refusing to fight an opponent. His own father, who's on the opposite side.
  • "I Am" Song: Clementina's "Song of The Brass Key", describing what she does for a living. Also, ''The Riff Song" and "French Military Marching Song." And arguably, "Azuri's Dance", which is actually a description of the character by another character. Since Azuri is a dancer, that's the closest thing the show has.
  • "I Want" Song: "Romance" for Margot and "One Alone" for the Red Shadow.
  • Serenade Your Lover: The title song.
  • Shipper on Deck: Clementina in the reprise of "The Song of the Brass Key".
    Clementina: Give him the key, the key to your heart,
    Help him to find the door
    Tell him of Loveland's lore."
  • Spiritual Successor: This can be seen as one to The Rose of Algeria. In both productions the setting is North Africa, the French hero has a family connection to the governor (De Lome's uncle/Pierre's father) and a strained relationship due to the hero's personality which differs from the "ideal" soldier. Both stories feature a protagonist in love with the other's alter ego and deal in some way with colonialism with the French Foreign Legion as a backdrop.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Margot and the girls all dress up as soldiers for "French Military Marching Song."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The Red Shadow was inspired by a Rif chieftain named Abdel Krim. Josef Otto Klems, a German-born Legionnaire who defected to the Rifs, may also have inspired the story.
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: ''Azuri's Dance".
    ''Sid el-Kar (singing): Soft as a pigeon lights upon the sand,
    Swift as a tiger she will grip his hand,
    Claws of a tiger sharp with fury,
    So is the maid Azuri.''
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The Red Shadow gets one over risking his friends' lives "for your woman".
  • Weakness Turns Her On: Clementina and Bennie, a "weak Western man."

The 1929 movie contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Chewing the Scenery: Everyone, but especially Myrna Loy as Azuri and John Boles as The Red Shadow.
  • Cut Song: "Romance" and "One Good Boy Gone Wrong", a seduction duet between Benny and Clementina.


The 1943 movie contains examples of the following tropes:


The 1953 movie contains examples of the following tropes.

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