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Lola Montez


Composer Peter Stannard (far left)

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Lola Montez

Dates: 01/07/2013 - 01/07/2014

Location: Development

A musical

Music by Peter Stannard Lyrics by Peter Benjamin Book by Alan Burke


Lola Montez is set in Ballarat in 1856 and deals with the sensational visit of the famous Irish dancer to the scene of the great Australian gold rush during its heyday. The musical revolves around Lola’s exploits and romances, with an array of distinctly Aussie characters woven into the narrative, and includes a nod to her notorious ‘Spider Dance’ which provoked a furore wherever she performed it.

Lola Montez was the Madonna of the 19th century!
A popular singer and performer who outraged the establishment by taking off her clothes on stage in her famous spider dance.
"They storm my web and beg a night of bliss. Then die in rapture at my poisonous kiss. Beware. Beware."
When the aging temptress left her celebrity lovers [Ludwig of Bavaria, Dumas, Liszt] in Europe and toured the gold fields of Ballarat - miners covered her stage with Gold nuggets.
But the Editor of the
Ballarat Times gave her act a panning. Lola responded by horsewhipping him in public.

Lola Montez, The Musical
The two most notable Australian musicals of the 1950’s were Edmond Samuels’ The Highwaymen and Lola Montez. With a cast that included the young Jon Finlayson, Lola Montez hada successful Melbourne opening, with an Age reviewer describing it as, ‘gay, humourous, tuneful with pleasant sentiment and a vein of engaging irony’. The Brisbane season that followed was also successfu. 

In 1957, the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust had been well launched, and its first success, The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, had enjoyed unexpected acclaim in both Australia and London. The time was ripe for an indigenous Australian musical. By coincidence, Peter Benjamin, Peter Stannard, and Alan Burke (the former two from Sydney, the latter from Melbourne), had been planning just such a project for some years. They had first come together in 1950 - at the end of 1956 their long planned musical came to fruition. The subject was to be Australian, but it must have more than parochial appeal. The visit to Australia in 1855/1856 of the celebrated courtesan and dancer, Lola Montez, seemed to provide the ideal answer. (At least two other musicals on the same subject were discovered to be in the process of development when Lola Montez was announced).
Hugh Hunt, the Executive Director of the Trust, heard several auditions of the work, and agreed to try it out at the Union Theatre Repertory Company (now the Melbourne Theatre Company) in February 1958, and to take an option for a larger national production. John Sumner, fresh from the New York premiere of "The Doll" , came back to direct the new musical. The cast included Neil Fitzpatrick, Glen Tomasetti, Patricia Connoly, Alan Hopgood, George Ogilvie, Robin Ramsay, Jon Finlavson, Monica Maughan, with opera singer Justine Rettick as Lola.
The Trust took up the option on opening night and the Melbourne season extended as it played to packed houses. The Trust production opened a short season in Brisbane, and then opened in Sydney on October 22, 1958. George Carden directed and choreographed, Hermia Boyd designed the sets and costumes, and the cast included Mary Preston as Lola, Frank Wilson as Sam and Michael Cole as Daniel. This production ran for three and a half months. The original cast recording (one of the first stereo recordings made in Australia) has been reissued many times, and Michael Cole's single recording of " Saturday Girl" hit the top 40 charts.
Lola Montez was produced on ABC TV in 1962 with Brigid Lenihan as Lola, and Patsy Hemingway as Jane. Frank Wilson and Alan Hopgood repeated their roles as Sam and Smith. Choreography was by Rex Reid, Mary Duchesne danced the Lola in the Bavaria sequence, and the dance ensemble included Kelvin Coe and Barry Moreland. This TV version was directed by the author Alan Burke.
Lola Montez has been performed by more than 100 theatres across Australia since its professional premiere in 1958, including a record 14 productions in 1988 (no doubt helped by the popularity of ‘Saturday Girl’, which became a minor hit and the most recorded song in Australian musical theatre history ).

Revision 2013
In 1988, the Bicentennial Year, with the prospect of a major production in Canberra, the authors took the opportunity to revise the work completely, drawing on the hindsight of thirty years, and amending the mistakes of their youthful inexperience, (not to mention certain managerial misjudgements!). Much of the first act was totally re-thought, construction strengthened and characters deepened - for example, Lola makes her entrance twenty minutes earlier than before: Sam's first songs was replaced by a completely new number. Many other songs were extended, dance music re-written, and new music accompanies dialogue in many places.
While two of the original writers Alan Burke and Peter Benjamin passed away in recent years, the composer Peter Stannard has given John Senczuk the authority to undertake a major dramaturgical revision of the book and to work to revitalise the orchestrations. The project is supported by David Spicer.

David Spicer Productions

Lola Montez (1818-1861)
Lola Montez (1818-1861), dancer and courtesan, was born in Limerick, Ireland, and christened Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna, daughter of Ensign Edward Gilbert and his fourteen-year-old wife who claimed descent from Spanish nobility. Her father died in 1824 and her mother married Major John Craigie, later adjutant-general of the British army in India. Educated at boarding schools in Britain and France, Lola was ordered by her mother at 19 to marry an aged judge; instead she eloped with Lieutenant Thomas James whom she married in Ireland on 23 July 1837. In 1839 James took her to Simla, India, but eloped with another woman. Lola returned to England in 1842 and James won a judicial separation on the ground of her adultery on shipboard.
Lola visited Spain and trained as a dancer, calling herself Donna Lola Montez. She made her début before royalty at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, on 3 June 1843; although beautiful and accomplished she was hissed off the stage when recognized as James's wife. Penniless she fled to Europe, giving performances which were then considered suggestive in Warsaw, Paris and elsewhere. In turn she became the mistress of Franz Liszt, Alexandre Dumas, and Alexandre Dujarier, part-owner of La Presse. After Dujarier was killed in a duel on 11 March 1845, Lola went to Munich posing as a Spanish noblewoman. The ageing King Ludwig I of Bavaria fell in love with her, buying a large house and settling an annuity on her. Lola exerted great political influence for a time; ministries rose and fell at her bidding and she won support from radical university students. On 25 August 1847 Ludwig created her Countess Marie von Landsfeld but the Bavarian aristocracy and middle class refused to acknowledge her. On 7 February 1848 street riots broke out against her influence and on the 10th thousands of burghers marched on the palace to demand her expulsion. Presented with proof of her background and infidelities, Ludwig gave way but also insisted on abdicating the throne. Lola fled to Switzerland when her Bavarian rights were annulled.
In April 1849 Lola returned to London, going through the form of marriage with a young Guards officer, George Trafford Heald, on 19 July. On 6 August she was arrested on a charge of bigamy but released on bail. She fled with Heald to Spain, where he drowned next year. Lola returned to the stage, touring Europe and America, carrying a cowhide whip and often a pistol, and becoming involved in innumerable assaults, scandals and legal actions. In gold-rush San Francisco, she gave the first performances of her notorious 'Spider Dance'. On 1 July 1853 she went through the form of marriage with Patrick Purdy Hull, owner of the San Francisco Whig. He soon sued for divorce, naming a German doctor as co-respondent: a few days later the doctor was found shot dead in near-by hills.
In May 1855 Lola appointed a young actor Noel Follin as her manager. In June they sailed for Sydney in the Fanny Major with their own company. They arrived on 16 August and opened with local actors at the Royal Victoria Theatre on the 23rd in a farrago entitled 'Lola Montez in Bavaria'. Two weeks later Lola and Follin (who had changed his name to Folland) decamped from Sydney. A sheriff's officer followed them on board the Waratah with a debtor's warrant of arrest; Lola undressed in her cabin and dared the officer to seize her but he left on the pilot boat without her. Lola opened at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne, on 13 September in her Bavarian role; when audiences diminished she began to perform the 'Spider Dance'. She was denounced by the press but the mayor of Melbourne, sitting as a magistrate, refused an application for her arrest. From 26 November to 31 December she played to full houses in Adelaide, returning to a 'rapturous welcome' at Sydney in January 1856. She opened at Ballarat on 16 February in a series of sketches; greeted by packed houses she invited miners to shower nuggets at her feet as she danced. The Ballarat Times attacked her notoriety; Lola retaliated by publicly horsewhipping the editor, Henry Seekamp, at the United States Hotel. On 21 February he published another critical article; she swore a warrant for his arrest on a charge of criminal libel but failed to appear when the case came up for trial. She had meanwhile been assaulted by the wife of her goldfields impresario and took a full month to recover. From 1 April Lola successfully toured Bendigo, Castlemaine and other Victorian towns, then sailed with Folland for San Francisco. Near Fiji on the night of 8 July he was lost overboard: no official investigation seems to have followed.
Rapidly ageing, Lola failed in attempts at a theatrical comeback in various American cities. She arranged in 1857 to deliver a series of moral lectures in Britain and America written by Rev. Charles Chauncy Burr. She seems to have been genuinely repentant but then was showing the tertiary effects of syphilis and her body began to waste away. Aged 42 she died on 17 January 1861 and was buried in Greenwood cemetery, Brooklyn, as Mrs Eliza Gilbert.
     Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974