Babes in Toyland is a 1903 operetta by Victor Herbert, which wove together various characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes into a musical — mainly because librettist Glen MacDonough wanted to cash in on the Wizard of Oz phenomena sweeping Broadway that year. It features some of Herbert's most famous songs - among them "Toyland", "March of the Toys", "Go To Sleep, Slumber Deep", and "I Can't Do The Sum". The title song "Toyland" and "March of the Toys" occasionally show up on Christmas compilations.
A new book and lyrics for the show were written for the Light Opera of Manhattan (LOOM) in the 1970s by Alice Hammerstein-Matthias (the daughter of Oscar Hammerstein II) and director-producer William Mount-Burke. LOOM played this operetta as a Christmas show for several weeks each year thereafter for about a decade with considerable success, and the rewritten book and lyrics has since been used by other companies. The ensemble becomes a mechanical militia of toys for the "March of the Wooden Soldiers," and children from the audience are brought up to help "wind-up" the toy dancers.
Plot with spoilers included
The basic and wildly illogical story is about orphans Alan and Jane. They live with their wicked uncle Barnaby, who wants to steal their fortune. He arranges for them to be shipwrecked and lost at sea, but somehow they survive and end up in Toyland, where they have a series of adventures with Mother Goose characters. Tom is accused of having done away with the evil Toymaker and is tried for murder, but is exonerated. Upon their return, Barnaby prepares a glass of poison for them, but accidentally drinks it himself and dies, leaving the children free to enjoy their fortune. Other characters include pirates (whom work for Barnaby) and goblins (whom once worked for him, but rebelled after he insulted the goblin king).
Large audiences were drawn to the musical by the spectacular settings and sets (e.g., the Floral Palace of the Moth Queen, the Garden of Contrary Mary) of Toyland.
In the 1970s version, which is more sentimental than the original, the two unhappy children, Jane and Alan, run away from home. Their parents, who are always putting work and discipline before play and pleasure, are too busy for them, so the young siblings set out for a place where they will be understood. The children believe that Toyland, a magical land of spirited toys, will deliver them from their hardships. When they arrive, the Toymaker welcomes them with open arms. He warns them not to become too caught up in the fantasy, but soon the toys of Toyland draw them in with their singing and dancing.
The busy parents must find a way to bring the young runaways back home. They send a private eye to search for their children, but he sees an opportunity for personal gain in his trip to Toyland; he forces Jane and Alan to help him steal the Toymaker’s plans for a new marching toy soldier. When the parents arrive in Toyland via hot air balloon, they too fall under the spell of the mystical land. Arguments break out, toys are wounded, and Jane and Alan get lost in the woods outside of Toyland. As the parents and toys search for the children, the characters and audience alike discover the true meaning of Christmas.
Most people know of the operetta from film versions; either Laurel and Hardy's 1934 version (called March of the Wooden Soldiers, it includes only five of Herbert's songs and almost none of the original book), or the Technicolor remake from 1961 from Walt Disney featuring Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, and Annette Funicello. This one had a heavily revised plot, but much of the Herbert music, although much of it was played in an entirely different tempo from that intended by the composer, and the songs had a completely new set of lyrics.
In addition, a 1954 adaptation for television featured Wally Cox, Dave Garroway, and Jack E. Leonard. A 1960 adaptation for television featured Shirley Temple as Floretta, Angela Cartwright as Jane, and Jonathan Winters as Barnaby. It was shown as an episode on the anthology series The Shirley Temple Show. A 1986 made for television version featured Drew Barrymore, Pat Morita, and Keanu Reeves, only two songs from the Victor Herbert score, a new plot, and many new songs by Leslie Bricusse.
Light Opera of Manhattan