Born: December 18, 1861; London, England
Died: February 15, 1924; London, England
British composer Lionel Monckton was the reigning king of British musical theater between the Victorian heyday of Gilbert and Sullivan and the sleek, buttoned-down drawing room comedies of Noël Coward and Ivor Novello. Born to a working-class but fairly well-to-do London family, Monckton took a law degree from Oxford, yet in his school days was very active in participating in amateur theatricals. Although he did embark on the practice of law uponRead more graduation, eventually Monckton's love of musical theater did win out, though he started late; Monckton didn't place a song in a revue until he was 30 years old. Producer George Edwardes took note of Monckton's talent and, with composer Ivan Caryll, formed a team, the three working together for the first time on the hit show The Shop Girl (1894). Centered at the Gaiety Theatre in London, they dominated the English musical comedy circuit for the next 15 years, despite stiff competition from Leslie Stuart and Sidney Jones. Monckton didn't mind working for the competition once in awhile, contributing numbers to Jones' two most successful shows, The Geisha (1896) and San Toy (1899).
The Gaiety's principal female star was singer Gertie Millar and Monckton married her in 1902; that year he wrote for her the enormously successful musical A Country Girl, Monckton's first show in which he was the sole composer, although prevailing trends forced him to revert to working on collaborative shows. In 1908, Edwardes installed Leslie Stuart at the Gaiety and moved Monckton off to the Adelphi Theatre, occasioning the show that proved Monckton's greatest commercial and artistic success, The Arcadians (1909), still regarded as a milestone in English musical theater. However, The Arcadians wasn't mounted at the Adelphi, but at a rival venue, persuading Edwardes to produce another solo vehicle written for Millar, The Quaker Girl (1909), giving Monckton a second enormous hit within the same year. This would prove Monckton's peak, however, and while his subsequent efforts did respectably, none even approached the runaway popularity of shows such as The Arcadians or The Quaker Girl.
George Edwardes died in 1915, just about the time syncopated music came into vogue in London. Edwardes' death severely depressed Monckton and he hated the syncopated music now popular; after a final hit show, The Boy (1917), he withdrew from show business. Monckton's marriage to Gertie Millar proved an unhappy one in the long run, but he refused to grant her a divorce; after his death at age 62 in 1924, Millar married an Earl and was made a countess. Read less
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