Babes in Toyland

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Babes in Toyland is an operetta composed by Victor Herbert with a libretto by Glen MacDonough (1870–1924), which wove together various characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes into a Christmas-themed musical extravaganza. The creators wanted to cash in on the extraordinary success of The Wizard of Oz, on which MacDonough had assisted, which was produced on Broadway beginning in January 1903, with the same producer, Fred R. Hamlin, and director, Julian P. Mitchell. Babes in Toyland 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.

The original production opened at the Chicago Grand Opera house on 17 June 1903, playing for three months, then toured east, opening on Broadway on 13 October 1903, and ran for 192 performances. This was followed by many successful tours and revivals.

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 13 seasons with considerable success, and the rewritten book and lyrics has since been used by other companies, including Troupe America. The ensemble becomes a mechanical militia of toys for the 'March of the Toys', and children from the audience are brought up to help 'wind-up' the toy dancers.

Broadway productions

After a tryout beginning in June 1903 at the Grand Opera House in Chicago, the original Broadway production opened on 13 October 1903, at the Majestic Theatre and closed after 192 performances on 19 March 1904. A return engagement on Broadway opened on 2 January 1905, at the Majestic Theatre and closed on 21 January 1905.

A Broadway revival opened on 23 December 1929, at Jolson's 59th Street Theatre, closing on 11 January 1930. It was directed by Milton Aborn. Another Broadway revival opened on 20 December 1930, at the Imperial Theatre, closing in January 1931. It was directed by Milton Aborn and choreographed by Virginie Mauret.


  • Alan, nephew of Barnaby
  • Jane, his sister
  • Uncle Barnaby, a rich miser
  • The Widow Piper, a widow with fourteen children
  • Tom Tom, her eldest son
  • Contrary Mary, her eldest daughter
  • Bo-Peep
  • Jack
  • Jill
  • Peter
  • Tommy Tucker
  • Sallie Waters
  • Miss Muffet
  • Curly Locks
  • Red Riding Hood
  • Bobby Shaftoe
  • Simple Simon
  • Boy Blue
  • Hilda, the Widow Piper's maid
  • Grumio, apprentice to the Master Toymaker
  • Gonzorgo, a ruffian
  • Roderigo, his partner
  • Inspector Marmaduke, of the Toyland Police
  • The Master Toymaker
  • The Spirit of the Pine
  • The Spirit of the Oak
  • The Moth Queen

Gertrude, a peasant

Musical numbers

Act 1
  • Prologue - Alan, Jane, Uncle Barnaby, Gonzorgo and Roderigo
  • Don't Cry, Bo-Peep (Never Mind, Bo-Peep, We Will Find Your Sheep) – Bo-Peep, Tom-Tom and Widow Piper's Children
  • Floretta – Alan and Chorus
  • Mary Mary – Chorus
  • Barney O'Flynn – Contrary Mary and Chorus
  • I Can't Do the Sum – Jane and Widow Piper's Children
  • Go to Sleep, Slumber Deep – Alan, Jane and Wood Spirits
Act 2
  • Christmas Fair Waltz: Hail to Christmas – Chorus
  • The Legend of the Castle – Gertrude and Chorus
  • Song of the Poet (introducing Rock-a-bye Baby) – Alan and Chorus
  • March of the Toys - Ensemble
  • Military Ball – Ensemble
  • In the Toymakers Workshop – Male Chorus
  • Toyland – Tom-Tom and Male Chorus
  • My Rag Doll Girl (Eccentric Dance) – Grumio and Jill
Act 3
  • An Old-Fashioned Rose – Tom-Tom
  • Before and After – Alan and Contrary Mary
  • Jane – Jane, Grumio, Gonzorgo and Chorus
  • Maybe the Moon Will Help You Out – Bo-Peep
Cut Numbers (Chicago, 1903)
  • With Downcast Eye - Tom-Tom and Chorus
  • The Men - Contrary Mary
  • The Healthfood Man - Gonzorgo and Roderigo
  • If I Were a Man Like That - Gonzorgo, Roderigo, Widow Piper
  • Mignonette - Tom-Tom
Additional numbers, 1904-1905
  • Beatrice Barefacts - Contrary Mary and Inspector Marmaduke
  • He Won't be Happy Till He Gets It - Jane, Grumio, Gonzorgo and Chorus
  • Don't Be a Villain - Gonzorgo and Roderigo

Plot synopsis

1903 version

Orphans Alan and Jane are the wards of their wicked Uncle Barnaby, who wants to steal their fortune. He arranges for them to be shipwrecked and lost at sea, but somehow they are rescued by gypsies and returned to Contrary Mary's garden. Contrary Mary, believing her beloved Alan is dead, has run away with her brother, Tom-Tom the Piper's son, rather than agree to marry Barnaby. After a second attempt on their lives in the Spider's Den, Alan and Jane are protected by the Moth Queen. In Toyland, Contrary Mary, Tom-Tom, Alan and Jane find each other and seek protection from the Master Toymaker, an evil genius who plots with Barnaby to create toys that kill and maim. The demonic possessed dolls kill the Toymaker and Barnaby uses the information to have Alan sentenced to death. Contrary Mary agrees to marry him in exchange for Alan's pardon, but Barnaby marries her, denounces Alan again, and dies, after drinking a wine glass filled with poison meant for Alan. Tom-Tom reveals that an old law of Toyland permitting marriage between a widow and a condemned man on condition that he supports her and honestly works may save Alan from the gallows and he marries the Widow Barnaby.

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.

1970s version

The 1970s version, first produced by the Light Opera of Manhattan, is more sentimental than the original. Two unhappy children, Jane and Alan, run away from home. Their parents, who are always putting work and discipline before fun, 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 kindly 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 and frightened in the dark woods outside of Toyland. As the parents and toys search for the children, the characters and audience alike discover the true meaning of Christmas.


Decca Records recorded ten selections (on five 10-inch 78-RPM records) in 1944. The recording featured Kenny Baker and Karen Kemple with a chorus and orchestra conducted by Alexander Smallens. This album was reissued on a 10-inch LP in 1949, and by reducing the selections from ten to six, Decca re-released it on one side of a 12-inch LP (The Red Mill was on the reverse) in 1957. This edition stayed in print until 1969. After a long absence from the catalogue, Decca Broadway reissued the complete album on CD (again paired with The Red Mill) in 2002.[1]

The Walt Disney film version, released in 1961, was given two recordings released in the same year. The first was a cover version featuring only Ed Wynn from the film, supported by a cast of singers unidentified on the album. This version was released by Disneyland Records. The second used the original vocal tracks from the soundtrack of the film; however, the musical accompaniments were not those heard in the film, but those heard on the cover version. The choral arrangements were, likewise, those heard on the cover version, not those heard in the actual film. This album was released on Buena Vista Records and features Ray Bolger, Henry Calvin, Kevin Corcoran, Annette Funicello, Ann Jillian, Mary McCarty, Tommy Sands and Ed Wynn. Neither one of these albums has been issued on CD.[2]

A stereo recording was made by Reader's Digest for their 1962 album Treasury of Great Operettas. Each of the 24 operettas in the set is condensed to fill one LP side. The Babes in Toyland selections have not been re-released on CD. The recording was conducted by Lehman Engel and featured Sara Endich, Patricia Kelly, Peter Palmer, Mary Ellen Pracht, Jeanette Scovotti, and Mallory Walker.[3]

A 1963 recording of several of the songs was released together with numbers from The Wizard of Oz (1963 MGM Studio Cast).[4] A compilation album was released on CD in 1997.[5]

A recording of the complete score of Babes in Toyland was reported in 2004 to be in process of creation, conducted by John McGlinn, with the original vocal arrangements and orchestrations, but for unknown reasons, it has not been released.[6]


A 1933 Betty Boop cartoon Parade of the Wooden Soldiers was written around music from Babes in Toyland. Laurel and Hardy's 1934 film version of Babes in Toyland (reissued as March of the Wooden Soldiers) includes only five of Herbert's songs and almost none of the original book. It also features Charlotte Henry.

There were three television versions within a ten year span. A 1950 television version starred Dennis King as a new villain called Dr. Electron. A 1954 adaptation for television featured Wally Cox, Barbara Cook, Dave Garroway, and Jack E. Leonard, and a 1960 adaptation for television featured Shirley Temple as the old gypsy Floretta, Angela Cartwright as Jane, and Jerry Colonna as Gonzales, a comic villain who replaced Barnaby. It was shown as an episode on the anthology series The Shirley Temple Show.

The Technicolor 1961 film version from Walt Disney starred Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands and Annette Funicello. This had a heavily revised plot, but much of the Herbert music was included, although some of it was played in an entirely different tempo from that intended by the composer, and the songs had completely new lyrics.

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. A musical version of Babes in Toyland with a plotline very similar to the Disney adaptation, has a book by Rebecca Ryland and music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur.[7]

An animated film version was released in 1997 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment featuring the voices of Christopher Plummer, James Belushi and Bronson Pinchot.