Sunday, May 23, 2010

The story of Babil & Bijou

(otherwise known as The Lost Regalia)
The eccentric Earl of Londesborough commissioned the famed playwright/actor/stage director, Dion Boucicault, to produce "the most spectacular entertainment ever seen on stage". The request resulted in a fairy spectacular, Babil & Bijou, presented in five acts and 18 tableaux. The set and costumes were so opulent they were said to have cost more than seventeen thousand pounds.
The cast list seemed as long as the dictionary and each player was exquisitely turned out in feathers and pomp.
The story (as described in a program from one of its venues) is as follows:

"Melusine, Queen of Fairyland, having been deprived of her kingdom for the crime of wedding a mortal, flies with her daughter, Bijou, to her husband's cot, to find that he has shared her punishment and died for the offence. The usurpers of her throne, Skepsis and Pragma (King and Queen of the Gnomes) know that they can never securely reign until they possess Melusine's Crown, Sceptre, and Robes, and for the purpose of obtaining possession of them, pursue her, but on discovering her retreat, find that they have arrived too late, for Melusine has in the meantime, given her regalia to the safe keeping of her late ministers and friends, viz.: -- Mistigris, Spirit of the Earth -- Wanda, Spirit of the Waters -- and Azurine, Spirit of the Air, who each promise to hide them in the deepest recesses of their respective domains.

"Seventeen years elapse, and Bijou, grown up to womanhood, has been concealed in the Rosewood Forest, and brought up as a companion of the villagers, and Phassalis, Prince of Zanzoozee, who has abdicated his throne, and disguised himself as a Forester, wins the hand and heart of Bijou. During all this time Skepsis and Pragma have vainly endeavoured to discover Bijou, in order that she might be wedded to their son, Porthos, and on the very day of Bijou's Nuptials, finds [sic] her whereabouts and would cast their evil spells over her, but for the timely arrival of Melusine, who appears to her daughter, Bijou, and gives her Twelve Golden Eggs, possessing a power by which she can protect herself -- the breaking of each egg securing for its owner any wish that may be desired. Melusine also tells her daughter, Bijou, her real rank, and exhorts her to endeavour to gain the lost regalia, and so recover her birthright and power.
"Bijou, with her betrothed, Babil, now assisted by Mistigris, proceed to discover the Robes, Crown and Sceptre, they pass thro' many adventures, visiting the depths of the sea, the expanse of the air, and the confines of the erath. During their travels they constantly encounter Skepsis, Pragma, and their imps, who, in various disguises, endeavour to foil them; at last the missing Crown and Sceptre are recovered from the earth and water, and lastly, the Robes are restored to them by one Princess Fortinbrasse, who has, through their power, become Queen of Atalantes, the Silver City of the moon, but who, on finding they are the property of Bijou, returns them to their rightful owner. Thus Bijou recovers her birthright, Babil is permitted to marry her, and Skepsis with his wicked party are overthrown."
A reviewer of the time decreed: "The question whether it is a good play is as irrelevant as the question whether a steamboat is a good windmill. It is a spectacle...".
But oh how the Victorians loved their spectacles! Babil & Bijou was performed in London to sold-out crowds for six months. Sadly it never recouped its extensive costs and closed shortly thereafter.

Babil & Bijou embraced spectacle & drama, whimsical fairy stories & opulent fashions all set to a fantastic musical score. The fact that it was not a financial success does not matter. A vision was conceived and a vision was brought to life. The legacy of Babil & Bijou lives on in every artistic endeavor and this legacy is what this blog is determined to celebrate.

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