British Musical Theatre

You are here: Main > Authors > Frederick Lonsdale

Frederick Lonsdale


LONSDALE, Frederick [LEONARD, Lionel Frederick] (b St Helier, Jersey, 5 February 1881; d London, 4 April 1954).

Variously a private soldier, an employee of the London and South Western Railway and a winning layabout, the young Lonsdale struggled for a number of years to make a career as a playwright until his wife, who had taken a job as a chorus girl for William Greet to make ends meet, got his work read by her employer. Greet sent it to fellow producer Frank Curzon, who not only put the young man on a retainer but eventually produced his first work: the musical play King of Cadonia, which he had set to music by none other than the composer of The Geisha, Sidney Jones, and the doyen of lyricists, Adrian Ross. It was, however, Lonsdale's very much more substantial than usual dialogue for the show's Ruritanian comic opera plot which both won King of Cadonia fine notices and helped the musical to a long career. After a couple of indifferent runs with straight plays, he turned out a second successful musical for Curzon. The Balkan Princess was basically little more than King of Cadonia with the sexes reversed, but it, too, had a good London run and a remarkably long and wide provincial and export life.

After a hiatus of some five years, during which Curzon turned down his author's newest text, Lonsdale re-appeared on the London musical stage under the patronage of George Edwardes with the libretto for a third successful musical, Betty, at Daly's Theatre and following Edwardes's death he submitted the text Curzon had rejected to Daly's Theatre manager Bobby Evett. Evett staged it as The Maid of the Mountains and the show became one of the phenomena of the wartime London theatre, compiling one of the longest runs in the history of the musical theatre and establishing itself as a classic of the British musical stage.

As Lonsdale moved on towards a career which would establish him as one of London's favourite writers of classy comedy, he did not abandon the musical stage. He adapted Booth Tarkington's Monsieur Beaucaire as a highly successful light opera for André Messager, he made the English versions for the enormously popular British productions of Jean Gilbert's Die Frau im Hermelin (The Lady of the Rose) and Katja, die Tänzerin and for Leo Fall's Madame Pompadour, but he wrote only two more original libretti. His Parisian tale of The Street Singer, commissioned by and devised for Phyllis Dare and with lyrics by his Jersey compatriot Ivy St Helier, told another conventional operetta tale in a manner that ensured it a more than conventional success, but his final piece, Lady Mary, 20 years after his splendid beginning with King of Cadonia, turned out to be the one musical venture which was rather less than a hit. From this time on Lonsdale wrote only plays but, after two decades of success, it seemed evident by the early 1930s that his era was past.

Remembered today principally for the four or five comedy hits of his career (On Approval, The Last of Mrs Cheney etc), Lonsdale, nevertheless, had considerably more, and more lucrative, successes in the musical theatre. He wrote the text for one of the greatest hits of the London musical stage in The Maid of the Mountains, and, if his other musicals are no longer played in Britain, Monsieur Beaucaire has remained in the repertoire in France for the 70 years since its original production.

Lonsdale's daughter Frances Donaldson became an author of, amongst other books, her father's biography, whilst his illegitimate daughter Angela became the mother of Britain's theatrical Fox family: actors Edward and James and producer Robert.

1908 King of Cadonia (Sidney Jones/Adrian Ross) Prince of Wales Theatre 3 September

1910 The Balkan Princess (Paul Rubens/Arthur Wimperis/w Frank Curzon) Prince of Wales Theatre 19 February

1915 Betty (Rubens/w Gladys Unger) Daly's Theatre 24 April

1916 High Jinks English adaptation (Adelphi Theatre)

1917 The Maid of the Mountains (Harold Fraser-Simson/Harry Graham) Daly's Theatre 10 February

1919 Monsieur Beaucaire (Andre Messager/Ross) Prince's Theatre 19 April

1922 The Lady of the Rose (Die Frau im Hermelin) English version (Daly's Theatre)

1923 Madame Pompadour English version (Daly's Theatre)

1924 The Street Singer (Fraser-Simson/Ivy St Helier) Lyric Theatre 27 June

1925 Katja the Dancer (Katja, die Tdnzerin) English version w Harry Graham (Gaiety Theatre)

1928 Lady Mary (Albert Szirmai, Phil Charig/w John Hastings-Turner) Daly's Theatre 23 February

Biography: Donaldson, F: Freddy Lansdale (Heinemann, London, 1957)


Adapted from The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre by Kurt Gänzl.

Page created 8 September 2004