Round in 50
Julian Wylie’s 1922 spectacular show for the London Hippodrome was Round in 50. It was not a golf problem but a ‘musical adventure’ designed as a vehicle for the hugely popular comedian George Robey, with the later addition of the American vaudeville star Sophie Tucker.
Launched out of town for a preliminary run of a week at the Cardiff Empire from Monday 6th March 1922 Round in 50 was then presented at the London Hippodrome on 16th March. The plot was taken from Jules Verne’s Round the World in Eighty Days when Phileas Fogg angered by his nephew’s extravagance issued an ultimatum that unless he created a new record travelling the globe in fifty days he will be disinherited. The nephew Phil Fogg (Alec Kellaway) sets off to accomplish the feat accompanied by Harold, a worthy attendant (George Robey), Jill Carey, a lady journalist (Jean Allistone), a telephone girl (Renne Reel) and a couple of detectives from Scotland Yard (Wallace Lupino as Inspector Tutty and Barry Lupino as Inspector Tippett) who have mistaken him for a run away bank thief.
The book was by Sax Rohmer, Julian Wylie and Lauri Wylie, lyrics by Clifford Harris and music by Jas W. Tate and Herman Finck, with dances staged by Gus Sohlke and scenery by Marc Henri and Laverdet, George W. Harris, Philip Howden, Ernest Howard, Bruce Smith and Sackman.
The seventeen scenes travelled across the globe visiting France, Italy, China and the USA providing a perfect frame for wonderful sets and costumes and various madcap adventures and some of best musical numbers were Spoony Waltx, Tea Leaves, Sing Sing, Nerves, Uncle Sambo and Harlequin Rag.
In Italy at the Hotel de L’Europe in Brindisi (Scene 3) there was My Lady Liqueur with Liliane Gilbert in the leading part introducing a procession of ladies dressed to represent the favourite liqueurs of the world shaded in ‘all the colours of the rainbow…. in kaleidoscope effect’ which included advocat, cherry brandy, prunella, green chartreuse, yellow chartreuse, creme de violette, forbidden fruit, grand marnier, vielle cure, peach brandy, poussee cafe, creme de cacoa, creme d’angelique, creme de menthe, kummel, creme de ciel and medoc.
Arriving in China, in a street in Hong Kong (Scene 4) Harold (Robey) fell easy prey to thieves with designs on his wallet and Wallace Lupino, Barry Lupino and Renee Reel break out into a joyous song and dance number. This was followed by the extravagant tableau of the Romance of the Tea Leaves (Scene 5) with showgirls dressed in black and white representing old Chinese ivory carvings that to many resembled an Aubrey Beardsley drawing come to life. ‘The dresses with their flourishes and arabesques of black line look like a page of beautifully ornate lettering on an old manuscript to which an illuminated capital is added when a girl in a dress of glittering gold ascends the flight of stairs at the back of the stage, trailing behind her a train of gorgeous ribbons outspread like the trail of a peacock.’
Arriving in America the cast found themselves in a cabaret in San Francisco (Scene 6). The curtain rose on an amusing scene (re-used from The Whirl of Today) of revelry with dancing, drinking and gaming all in progress to the strains of a ragtime band. Harold (George Robey) had a flutter and lost everything even his coat and waistcoat. Then, when a warning of a police raid is received, the scenery and costumes were transformed and the decorations of the room metamorphosed into a lecture room with the result that the cabaret became an earnest Pussyfoot (tea-totallers) meeting addressed by Harold (George Robey).
A few months after the launch of the show, in mid May 1922, Wylie secured Sophie Tucker, who had made her UK debut and scored a big hit in the Hotel Metropole cabaret, the Finsbury Park Empire and in a regional theatre tour. She was added to the Cabaret scene wearing creations from Isobel couture and made a huge impression. She gave what was in effect her music-hall act assisted by her two pianists and rattled of four numbers ‘in her own quaint and amusing manner… she has that rare gift of personality and a certain forceful manner that gets all her work well over the footlights.’
Next, Harold (George Robey) found himself in a Prison cell (Scene 7) and wearing a striped convict outfit he gave a wonderful little song about Sing Sing the celebrated American jail. This is followed by a scene in which the well-meaning Governor of the prison provides a variety entertainment for the amusement of the prisoners that include a Quartette of bell ringers and a conjuror
We are then transformed into a glorious Californian orange grove (Scene 9) showing trees laden with ripe fruit and lovely girls gathering it in with harvest festivities prevailing including a quaint banjo band culminating in nightfall and every orange a glowing light.
All the remaining scenes (10-17) are placed in New York and London with a finale in the ballroom of the Gridiron Club showing seven entire scenes presented in twenty minutes.
One of the major features of the revue was the theme of drinking and the importance of prohibition in the USA. As the Bystander observed ‘one of the features of the revue is the prominence given to what Prohibitionists in America call the Demon run.’ Right at the beginning in Scene 2 at customs in Boulogne, Harold (George Robey) is observed to be in a nicely matured state of intoxication and the source of much amusement. Later, there is the display of liqueurs in Italy, in the Hong Kong scene is a sort of cafe with the alluring sign ‘Plentee Muchee Booze’ and then there is cabaret scene in San Francisco.
Dolly Tree, who was responsible for the costuming the show had a massive undertaking with hundreds of designs which created an enormous impact on the London theatre scene and the critics were delighted: “the effects are positively dazzling’ and ‘one can hardly speak too highly of the charm of the scenes and dresses and of the art with which the whole has been staged.’ Of course the two rather spectacular tableaux with extraordinary costumes were My Lady Liqueur and Romance of the tea leaves and the cabaret scene had ‘contemporary costumes of a most fashionable extravagance.’ All the gowns were executed by Peron and costumes by Alias, Morris Angel and Betty S. Roberts.
Interestingly, what the stage was unable to supply was provided by film via Julian Wylie’s brother G.B. Samuelson, the British film producer. ‘For the first time in the history of the theatre, I believe an alliance has been formed between the two rival arts,’ The Queen magazine commented. This included a backdrop film of a river in the distance in the Californian orange grove scene and a race between an Atlantic liner and a motor launch carrying the cast.
The critics were unanimous in their praise. The Stage thought that the show was: ‘a blend of the best features in musical comedy, drama and revue… there is not a dull moment from first to last and there are brilliant scenes, magnificent dresses, haunting songs, graceful dancing and charming lighting effects.’ The Era thought ‘it has a coherent plot, some delightful stage pictures, without being overweighted with spectacle, many attractive songs and dances and George Robey at his funniest.’ There was also great praise for the cast, most notably for George Robey who had the leading part and was given plenty of scope for his rich humour. He masqueraded in an array of disguises throughout, with jokes and songs well suited to his particular style. For example, he made his first appearance as Chester, the Orphen chef, the original of Sir William Orpen’s much-admired Academy picture of 1921. The amusing Lupino’s were both in their element with their remarkable acrobatic dancing and trap-door business. Ruth French was the principal dancer who had ‘never been seen to better advantage’ along with 16 other chorus dancers. Alec Kellaway was described as ‘bright and breezy’, Jean Allistone gave a pleasing and attractive performance and Renee Reel was regarded as a gifted comedienne.
After 469 performances, Round in 50 closed in mid December to make way for the annual pantomime Cinderella, but was swiftly sent on tour through the regions in 1923.
Take a look at the fully illustrated biography about Dolly Tree (Dolly Tree: A Dream of Beauty). A long lost artistic genius of the Jazz Age, Dolly Tree was famous on both sides of the Atlantic, for her extravagant creations for the stage, cabaret, couture and film in the 1920s and 1930s. This illustrated biography, with over 600 images, captures her unique talent and achievements as a dress designer, including her Hollywood career at MGM.
Dolly Tree: A Dream of Beauty
Will be published 26th September 2017 in hardback and paperback.
Both versions contain over 600 photographs and is A4 – it is a big coffee table book.
The Hardback has 400 pages all in full colour — it is the deluxe package with an RRP of £75.
The paperback has 340 pages and is in black and white with 11 colour sections containing 44 pages and an RRP of £30.
View the digital sampler
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
The Era, the Sketch, the Stage, Liverpool Post & Mercury, the Queen, the Tatler and the Bystander
Some of These Days by Sophie Tucker
George Robey by Peter Cotes