The Desert Song

JimThe Desert Song

The Desert Song

Book by Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II and Frank Mandel | Music by Sigmund Romberg | Lyrics by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II

This 1926 operetta from the team who had created Rose-Marie (plus additional librettist Frank Mandel) was inspired by the 1925 uprising of the Riffs, a group of Moroccan fighters, against French colonial rule. A swashbuckling romance/adventure story, The Desert Song presents a brave and dynamic hero who takes on a mid-mannered persona to conceal his true identity – a theme explored in pop culture tales ranging from The Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro to Superman.

The musical opened on Broadway at the Casino Theatre on November 30, 1926 and was an instant hit. Walter Winchell called it “One of the treats of the town… A tuneful, gay and lavishly upholstered entertainment.” The production ran an impressive 471 performances, closing on January 7, 1928. The Desert Song returned to Broadway twice and was adapted into three major motion pictures.


Unknown to anyone, Pierre Birabeau, son of the French governor of a Moroccan province, is also the “Red Shadow,” leader of the native Riff tribes. When Margot Bonvalet arrives from Paris, Pierre, in disguise, makes love to her and abducts her to the retreat of Ali Ben Ali. After the French forces are captured by the Riffs, Pierre refuses to fight a duel with his father and is banished by his men for this seemingly cowardly behavior. Carrying the clothes and mask of the “Red Shadow,” he returns to French headquarters, where he is hailed as a hero for having killed the outlaw.


Margot Bonvalet – Lively, sassy French girl
Susan – General Birabeau’s ward
Clementina – A Spanish lady
Pierre Birabeau – The “Red Shadow”
Sid El Kar – The Red Shadow’s Lieutenant
Benjamin Kidd – Former society correspondent of the Paris Herald
General Birabeau – Governor of a French Moroccan Province
Capt. Paul Fontaine – Birabeau’s right-hand man
Ali Ben Ali – Wealthy leader of a Riff tribe
Mindar & Hassi
Sergeant La Vergne
Sergeant De Boussac