Thursday, November 26, 2015

Chu Chin Chow: Before Annie. Before Rent. Before Cats even.

Inspired by Edward Knobloch's play, "Kismet" 
(NOT the musical version) of 1911, 
Oscar Ashe wrote, directed, produced, and starred in
Chu Chin Chow, a lavish re-telling of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.
That's him above as Abu Hassan...
later played by Tyrone Power, Sr.
(yep, the Power before the Power!).

A mix of pantomime and musical comedy, Chu Chin Chow
opened in 1917 and became a hot ticket...
it boasted incredible sets and lighting,
provocative costumes, a camel, a donkey, and snakes.
 Instantly popular
with English soldiers on leave from the Western Front...
well, get a load of the costumes! 

Re-done as a silent movie with Betty Blythe 
(above and below)...
and a musical version in 1934 with Anna Mae Wong.
And stage-wise, it was revived again and again
with additional songs (and probably fewer animals).

Above, an original playbill from the 3rd season
(it played from 1917 to 1921...a record breaker at the time).
The show was name-dropped in Auntie Mame,
Upstairs Downstairs,
and most recently, Season 3 of Downton Abbey.
Mrs. Hughes: ""Then your dinners would be grand enough for
 Chu Chin Chow."


  1. Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Victoria, Australia are reviving this, without the snakes, in July 2016.

  2. That's wild! No one ever revives this. Are you going?