British Musical Theatre

You are here: Main > Composers > Paul Rubens

Paul Rubens


    Paul Rubens

    RUBENS, Paul [Alfred] (b London, 29 April 1875; d Falmouth, 25 February 1917). Songwriter and scribe of the very lightest kind of material for the Victorian and Edwardian musical stage.

    The younger son of an exceedingly wealthy and social London family, Rubens had no musical training, but began as a student by composing a score (w Nigel Playfair) for an Oxford production of Alice in Wonderland on which Lewis Carroll himself collaborated. He took part in university dramatics, continued to write songs and music, and at the age of 19 saw his 'The Little Chinchilla' performed in The Shop Girl at the Gaiety Theatre by Ellaline Terriss. He persevered in the field, providing songs for Arthur Roberts in Dandy Dan the Lifeguardsrnan, the revised version of A Modern Don Quixote (1898, 'There's Just a Something Missing') and Milord Sir Smith, for Little Miss Nobody ('Trixie of Upper Tooting' 'A Wee Little Bit of a Thing Like That' with his stockbroker brother, Walter, 'We'll Just Sit Out', 'The People All Come to See Us') and for George Edwardes's San Toy (1899, 'Me Gettee Outee Velly Quick'). At the same time he made his first but unsuccessful venture as a dramatist with the play Young Mr Yarde (1898, w Harold Ellis) and another, equally shortlived, as the co-author and co-composer of a burlesque, Great Caesar, which was produced in the West End with a fine cast but a feeble reception.

    Rubens continued songwriting with contributions to two Tom Davies productions, L'Amour mouillé (again with brother Walter and with Landon Ronald) and, most importantly, to Florodora where he managed to get not only lyrics but a number of tunes tacked into the angry Leslie Stuart's score ('Inkling', 'Tact', 'When I Leave Town', 'I Want to Marry a Man', 'When an Interfering Person', 'Queen of the Philippine Islands', 'When We're on the Stage'). After this success, George Edwardes put Rubens under contract as an 'additional material' writer, and he used further of his numbers in The Messenger Boy (1900, burlesque 'Tell Me Pretty Maiden', 'How I Saw the CIV" 'A Perfectly Peaceful Person'), The Toreador (1901, 'Everybody's Awfully Good to Me'), A Country Girl (1902, 'Two Little Chicks', 'Coo'), The Girl from Kays (1902, 'I Don't Care') and The Cingalee (1904, 'Sloe Eyes', 'Make a Fuss of Me' 'She's All Right', 'You and I and I and You', 'Golly-wogs', 'Somethings Devilish Wrong'), many with considerable success. The prolific young songwriter also interpolated pieces during the same period in Tom Davis's The Medal and the Maid (1902, 'Consequences') and The School Girl (1903). At the same time Rubens not only provided incidental music for the 1901 His Majesty's Theatre Twelfth Night but finally authored a musical all his own, a piece in which most of the book as well as lyrics and music were his work.

    Gabrielle Ray as Susan in Lady Madcap.
    Gabrielle Ray

    Three Little Maids was a breeze-weight piece of thoroughly English material, written to order for Edwardes to feature Ada Reeve, Edna May and Hilda Moody. Like its heroines, it was alternately music-hally, pretty, pale, mildly suggestive and also successful. It ran 348 performances in London prior to an international career. A second piece in a similar vein, Lady Madcap, also did well, as did The Blue Moon for which Rubens supplied some catchy little numbers with which to contrast Howard Talbot's more substantial songs and ensembles.

    In spite of their success, both Three Little Maids and Lady Madcap were pieces of little substance or sense, but in 1905 Rubens turned out the musical which, if not his most generally successful, was almost certainly his best. Mr Popple of Ippleton had a genuine libretto, which gave every sign of being modelled on the style if not the substance of a French vaudeville, it had delightful characters and much less of the schoolboy-sniggery tone for which Rubens always showed such a wearying propensity in his lyrics. Bedevilled by theatre arrangements, Mr Popple had only a medium London career (173 performances), but it left behind a couple of Rubens's most adult and delightful songs.

    A merry hotchpotch called The Dairymaids and the happy Dutch 'musical incident' Miss Hook of Holland, decorated with what the composer/author disarmingly but nonetheless accurately called his 'jingles and tunes', gave him further successes, the latter proving ultimately to be the most enduring of all his works. There was less success with a musical version of Tristan Bernard's La Soeur, made over as The Hoyden for Elsie Janis on Broadway - where Rubens's songs had been already heard as interpolations in several shows including Anna Held's A Parisian Model as well as productions of his British shows - and similarly little with attempts at French Riviera and Danish follow-ups to Miss Hook (My Mimosa Maid, Dear Little Denmark) and a 'song comedy', The Genius, written by the De Mille brothers and mounted in America by Mort Singer. However Frederick Curzon's production of The Balkan Princess, a Ruritanian imitation of the successful King of Cadonia, gave the composer a rather surprising success in an area - the costume romantic musical - which seemed far from his most likely area.

    George Grossmith as Lord Bicester and Phyllis Dare as Delia Dale in The Sunshine Girl.
    George Grossmith and Phyllis Dare in The Sunshine Girl

    The departure of Ivan Caryll to America and the unreliability of Leslie Stuart as a chief composer gave Rubens the opportunity to take over as the main musical supplier to George Edwardes. Thereafter, the Edwardes houses and their stars helped the composer, as he helped them, to further successes and semi-successes with The Sunshine Girl, The Girl from Utah (w Sidney Jones), After the Girl, Tina and Betty. His best and most enduringly popular piece from this period, however, was Fred Thompson's adaptation of the famous farce Les Dominos roses, Tonight's the Night. Supplied, as he had been in The Balkan Princess, with an infinitely better libretto than those which he confected for himself, and limited to melodies (this was all he supplied musically, the rest had to be written for him) and some of the lyrics, Rubens proved, with a singular success, that this kind of illustration of a sound comic text was what he did best. However, just as an era of such pieces was beginning in the British theatre, Rubens, who had suffered severe ill-health through virtually his whole career, died at the age of 41.

    His songs were still to be heard, interpolated into shows in London and New York, for several years thereafter, and in 1924 his 'The Gondola and the Girl' was used, along-side pieces by Padilla, Gershwin and E Ray Goetz as part of the score of Irene Bordoni's Little Miss Bluebeard (1924).

    1899 Great Caesar (w Walter Rubens/w George Grossmith jr) Comedy Theatre 29 April

    1902 Three Little Maids (w Howard Talhot/w Percy Greenbank) Apollo Theatre 20 May

    1904 Lady Madcap (w P Greenbank/N Newnham-Davis) Prince of Wales Theatre 17 November

    1904 The Blue Moon (w Talbot/P Greenbank/Harold Ellis) Theatre Royal, Northampton 29 February; Lyric Theatre, London 28 August 1905

    1905 Mr Popple of Ippleton Apollo Theatre 17 March

    1906 The Dairymaids (w Frank E Tours/w Arthur Wimperis/Robert Courtneidge, A M Thompson) Apollo Theatre 14 April

    1907 Miss Hook of Holland (w Austen Hurgon) Prince of Wales Theatre 31 January

    1907 The Hoyden (w Tours, John Golden, Robert Hood Bowers/ad Cosmo Hamilton et al) Knickerbocker Theater, New York 19 October

    1908 My Mimosa Maid (w Hurgon) Prince of Wales Theatre 21 April

    1909 Dear Little Denmark Prince of Wales Theatre 1 September

    1910 The Balkan Princess (w Wimperis/Frederick Lonsdale) Prince of Wales Theatre 19 February

    1911 The Genius (Vincent Bryant/William de Mille, Cecil de Mille)

    1912 The Sunshine Girl (w Wimperis/Cecil Raleigh) Gaiety Theatre 24 February

    *1912 A Mix-Up at Newport (Lew Kelly, Fred Wyckoff, Lon Hascall) 1 act Columbia Theater, New York 21 October

    *1912 A Rube in Chinatown (Lew Kelly, Fred Wyckoff, Lon Hascall) 1 act Columbia Theater, New York 21 October

    1912 The Boss of the Show (Wimperis) 1 act

    1913 The Girl from Utah (w Sidney Jones/w Ross, P Greenbank/Tanner) Adelphi Theatre 18 October

    1914 After the Girl (w P Greenbank) Gaiety Theatre 7 February

    1914 Tonight's the Night (w P Greenbank/Fred Thompson) Shubert Theatre, New York 24 December

    1915 Betty (w Adrian Ross/Lonsdale, Gladys Unger) Daly's Theatre 24 April

    1915 Tina (w Haydn Wood/w Harry Graham, P Greenbank) Adelphi Theatre2 November

    1915 The Miller's Daughters revised Three Little Maids (w P Greenbank) Prince's Theatre, Manchester 24 December, London Opera House 1916)

    1916 The Happy Day (w Sidney Jones/w Ross/Seymour Hicks) Daly's Theatre 13 May

    * The publicity for these pieces insists that Paul Rubens is 'a bandmaster from Schenectady'. If there were indeed two of them, The Genius may also belong to this mysterious bandmaster.


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

    Page created 21 August 2004