a Lost Masterpiece--the story of Romeo and Ethel
Bill Ritch and Fiona Leonard first learned of the existence of this
play while watching the documentary, Shakespeare in Love. They
knew immediately it was to be MRAP’s next production.
down the play was no easy endeavor. The filmmakers were most hesitant
to reveal their sources, insisting they had concocted it out of whole
cloth. Undaunted, and backed by MRAP’s meager budget, Ritch and Leonard
flew to began their research in London, where they haunted the West
End for 18 weeks. When the money ran out, Ms. Leonard debased herself
by playing “Christine” in Phantom of the Opera for a season,
while Mr. Ritch was forced to ghost several Tele-Tubbies scripts.
dedication was rewarded late one night at the Mermaid Theatre. During
a moment of passionate indiscretion, a chorus girl confessed that
she had seen a copy of a Henry Purcell score to Romeo & Ethel
at the Westminster School for Wayward Girls Led Astray by Artists,
Musicians, Painters, and Especially Actors. By pretending to be a
Wayward Girl, Ms. Leonard obtained access to the school’s vault of
scripts and scores. She discovered several centuries of “special bequests”
made by England’s greatest writers and composers. That is when the
team called in Mr. Weage.
and Ritch, also disguised, spent painstaking hours hand-copying the
script and score for Purcell’s adaptation of Romeo & Ethel.
As he had done when transforming A Midsummer Night’s Dream
into The Fairy Queen, Purcell became a posthumous collaborator
with Shakespeare by turning a play into a musical comedy.
intrepid trio’s painstaking reconstruction of the script and score
was hampered by faded ink, the almost illegible scrawls of the copyists,
and by the discomfort of the appliances they had to wear while dressed
as pregnant teen-agers. No amount of pain could lessen the excitement
as they deciphered line after line. Even the marginalia were fascinating.
For example, a copyist’s note on page 37 read: “Damn that Francis,
for the final time. These lines here don’t even rhyme. – Jeremiah.”
out of the school when they they failed to deliver… as it were, and
three songs from the end, they stopped at a book-shop on Charing Cross
Road where they discovered a book of Dilbert and Sullivan operettas.
It included an adaptation of Purcell’s songs from Romeo & Ethel.
Dilbert and Sullivan were minor lights in the Victorian musical theatre.
Arnold Sullivan never achieved the fame of his older brother, Sir
Arthur. He and Dilbert met while working for Charles Babbage. They
were briefly famous by solving a fin-de-siècle problem with
Babbage’s calculating engine.
Leonard, and Weage returned home delighted to bring this rediscovered
masterpiece to MRAP’s faithful Dragon*Con audience.