Between Modernism and Japonism: The Mousmé and the cultural mobility of musical comedy

Henry Balme


Edwardian musical comedy had been sidelined in music and theatre histories due to its conservative design and frivolous narratives, but it is now being critically reassessed for the role it played in the creation of a first globalised network of theatre. The Mousmé is a work that exemplifies the process of performative re-contextualisation that accompanied musical comedies as they travelled from London’s West End across the world, as far as Yokohama and Tokyo. The work appealed to British audiences because it was held to be a realistic reconstruction of Japanese culture and society, but it was also enjoyed by Japanese audiences, despite its stereotypical portrayal of their people. This apparent dichotomy is explored in this essay, which presents little-known documents surrounding the production and its travels. It sheds light on how musical theatre became culturally mobile during the first age of globalisation.

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