STUART, Leslie [BARRETT, Thomas Augustine] (aka Lester Thomas) (b Southport, 15 March 1864; d Richmond, Surrey, 27 March 1928). British songwriter who made himself a musical comedy mark as the composer of Florodora.
Leslie Stuart spent some of his earliest professional musical moments as a pianist at Manchester's Ship Inn and then, from the age of 14, as church organist for seven years at St John's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Salford and a further seven at the Church of the Holy Name in Manchester. At the same time, he gradually became known as a writer of popular songs, ranging from such heroic stuff as `The Bandolero' for the popular baritone who called himself Signor Foli, to a veritable flood of the then-popular coon songs, many of which were introduced by Eugene Stratton, the supreme blackface singer of the time. The most successful and enduring of these was `Lily of Laguna', but Stuart had notable successes with `Little Dolly Daydream', `Sweetheart May', `Is Your Mamie Always with You?' and with a song fabricated from a march which he had written to celebrate the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal and later re-lyricked under the title `Soldiers of the Queen'. Stuart also became for a while a concert impresario in the Manchester area, presenting Paderewski in his first British appearances and opera's Fanny Moody in concert.
Stuart's earliest theatrical writing was done for the Manchester theatre, where he provided songs and incidental music in particular for the local pantomimes which boasted some of the biggest British names in their bills. In the 1896 Liverpool Aladdin he supplied Lottie Collins with `The Girl on the Rand-dan-dan', `I Went with Papa to Paris' and `Is Your Mamie Always with You?'. Stuart also had individual numbers interpolated in a number of West End and touring musicals in the late 1890s, beginning with the highly successful `Lousiana Lou', which had already been published by Francis, Day and Hunter (who would remain Stuart's publishers throughout his career) and performed on the music halls before being picked up by Ellaline Terriss and inserted into the original production of The Shop Girl at the Gaiety Theatre alongside Stuart's `The Little Mademoiselle'.
When the Trilby craze hit London during the run of George Edwardes's An Artist's Model (1895, `The Military Model'), Stuart wrote (though the lyrics are credited to his brother, Lester Barrett) and composed 'Trilby Will Be True' for Maurice Farkoa to perform at Daly's Theatre, and he subsequently had songs used in Baron Golosh, The Circus Girl (1896, `She May Not Be That Sort of a Girl' for Louis Bradfield), the London version of the American musical A Day in Paris (1897, 'The Goblin and the Fay'), Kiefert's The Ballet Girl (1897, `She's an English Girl', `I Never Saw a Girl Like That', `De Baby am Crying, Mommer Come') and The Yashmak (1897, `The Silly Old Man in the Moon'), but it was not until 1899 that he completed his first full musical-comedy score.
Ada Reeve as Lady Holyrood in Florodora.
Florodora, written in collaboration with London's most fashionable librettist, Owen Hall, and produced by neophyte producer Tom Davis at the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, was a musical-comedy sensation. Its famous double sextet, `Tell Me Pretty Maiden', became the most successful show tune of its time and the show itself, for which Stuart had provided a score ranging from the most traditional and beautiful of waltzes ('The Silver Star of Love', `The Fellow Who Might') to the more quirkily rhythmic and long-lined numbers which were his trademark, was a worldwide success, earning its composer an international theatrical reputation to add to that already secured by his songs.
Davis followed Florodora at the Lyric Theatre with a second Stuart/Hall musical The Silver Slipper. If its musical content seemed to be moulded rather closely on the Florodora score, it nevertheless fulfilled the 'more of the same' requirements opened by the extravagant success of the earlier show and The Silver Slipper had good runs in the West End and on Broadway, as well as being played in Hungarian in Budapest and in German in Berlin, where it played at the Neues Königliches Opernhaus in repertoire with no less pieces than Der Zigeunerbaron and Der Bettelstudent. The composer had further show-successes in London, New York and on the national and international touring circuits with The School Girl (1903, `My Little Canoe'), The Belle of Mayfair (1906, `Come to St George's', `In Montezuma') and Havana (1908, `Hello, People, Hello') and George Edwardes, always on his toes to keep one step ahead of public taste, decided that Stuart was the man to replace the well-loved and well-used Ivan Caryll/Lionel Monckton combination at the Gaiety Theatre.
However, Stuart did not turn out a Gaiety musical to follow Havana, but instead wrote the score for Captain Kidd, a Seymour Hicks piece which the scavenging actor had adapted from the American farce The Dictator. His undistinguished songs added nothing to a weak piece which lasted but a month on the stage, in spite of the drawing power of Hicks and his wife, Ellaline Terriss, and Stuart was faced with his first and only flop, a flop so complete that his publishers did not even print up the score.
Phyllis Dare in a daring bathing costume as Peggy Barrison in Peggy (1911)
1911 saw his return to the Gaiety with the reasonably successful Peggy, and in the same year he finally composed his one and only Broadway score - something which had been announced by American managers on a number of occasions since Florodora had become the hottest hit on the New York stage - with a useful if undistinguished vehicle for Elsie Janis as The Slim Princess, an anorexic lass who goes to America for a husband because slim girls are fashionable there. The score to The Slim Princess was, in true Broadway fashion, dotted with non-Stuart interpolations, but by this stage the composer was no longer in a position to object to a practice which he had fought energetically and sometimes legally throughout the ten years of his time at the theatrical top, ever since he had discovered Paul Rubens's songs being shovelled into his very first show, Florodora, at an early stage of preparation.
Sometimes, when he had the weight of his Florodora fame behind him, Stuart had succeeded in stopping this time-dishonoured practice - a practice which was not simply dictated by artistic motives but by financial ones, as publishers and wealthy second-rate songwriters would pay for exposure for their songs, especially in a show by a `hot' composer like Stuart. Similarly, he had succeeded from time to time in parts of his fight in Britain and in America against music piracy and on behalf of firmer national and international copyright laws. But by 1911 his personal and, most particularly, his financial life were in the doldrums and later the bankruptcy courts, the days of his style of music were rapidly coming to an end under the influence of modern dance rhythms and, at the age of 45, his career in the musical theatre had effectively come to an end.
Stuart interpolated a number into Broadway's The Queen of the Movies (Die Kino-Königin) and composed some unexceptional songs for a 1915 revival of Florodora, but his last contributions seem to have been, against all his expressed principles, songs for the provincial management of Mark Blow to interpolate into their tour of Tow (1919), and for the short-lived Jenny (1922) at the Empire Theatre. In his later years he continued to write, and although he would not show his final work, Nina, to anyone, both it and The Girl from Nysa were mooted for production both before and after his death without ever coming to the stage. When his gambling debts outweighed his royalties from the still-lively Florodora, Stuart appeared in variety performing his most famous songs at the piano.
Stuart's stage works fell somewhere between the very light song-based shows of the Gaiety Theatre and the more substantial fare played at Daly's, but although the concerted music - in which he was aided by the West End's master journeyman musician, Carl Kiefert - was highly effective, the greatest success of all his shows was in their individual songs, many of which became widely and enduringly popular.
His daughter May Leslie Stuart appeared on the musical stage as Beauty in Pinkie and the Fairies (1909) and as a last-minute replacement for Ada Reeve as Lady Holyrood in the 1915 Florodora.
1899 Florodora (Ernest Boyd Jones, Paul Rubens/Owen Hall) Lyric Theatre 11 November
1901 The Silver Slipper (W H Risque/Hall) Lyric Theatre 1 June
1903 The School Girl (Charles H Taylor/Henry Hamilton, Paul Potter) Prince of Wales Theatre 9 May
1906 The Belle of Mayfair (Basil Hood, C H E Brookfield) Vaudeville Theatre 11 April
1908 Havana (Adrian Ross/Graham Hill, George Grossmith jr) Gaiety Theatre 25 April
1910 Captain Kidd (Ross/Seymour Hicks) Wyndham's Theatre 12 January
1911 The Slim Princess (Henry Blossom) Globe Theater, New York 2 January
1911 Peggy (C H Bovill/Grossmith) Gaiety Theatre 4 March
Adapted from The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre by Kurt Gänzl.
Page created 21 August 2004