The Dancing Years

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The Dancing Years
The Dancing Years Drury Lane Souvenir Programme.jpg
West End souvenir theatre programme
MusicIvor Novello
LyricsChristopher Hassall
BookIvor Novello
Productions1939 West End

The Dancing Years is a musical with book and music by Ivor Novello and lyrics by Christopher Hassall. The story takes place in Vienna, from 1911 until 1938. It follows the life of a penniless Jewish composer and his love for two women of different social classes, set against the background of Nazi persecution.

The piece opened in 1939 in London's West End, starring Novello. Like many of Novello's musicals, The Dancing Years was given an expensive, spectacular production, with several scene changes and a large cast.


Rudi, a penniless young Jewish composer, plays the piano at an Austrian country inn, where he has been friends, since childhood with the innkeeper's daughter, Grete; they pledged to marry some day. He falls in love with Maria, an opera singer, for whom he composes successful operas. Three years later, Grete has become a musical theatre star. Maria overhears Rudi proposing to Grete in jest. Maria misunderstands and returns to Vienna to marry her older patron and former lover, Prince Metterling. Maria bears Rudi's son, Otto, who is brought up to believe that he is Metterling's son. More than a decade later, Maria introduces Rudi to Otto. Rudi and Maria discover that they are still love with each other, but Rudi decides that he cannot break up her marriage for the sake of their son. After more than another decade passes, Rudi is sentenced to death by the Nazis for helping Jews to escape Austria, but Maria uses her husband's connections to get a reprieve for him.


The musical was first produced at London's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 23 March 1939, directed by Novello's frequent collaborator Leontine Sagan.[1] Novello starred opposite Mary Ellis. It closed at the start of the Second World War in September 1939 after 187 performances. After a three-year provincial tour, the show reopened at the Adelphi Theatre on 14 March 1942, running there until July 1944, for a total of 969 performances. It was the most popular show of the war and earned an estimated £1,000,000.[2] After this, the show toured extensively in Britain and was revived numerous times, including in London, and was adapted for film and television. The 1968 West End revival starred June Bronhill.[3]

The Australian production opened in Melbourne at His Majesty's Theatre in June 1946. The cast included Max Oldaker as Rudi, Elizabeth Gaye as Grete and Viola Wilson as Maria.[4][5]

Original and 1942 casts[edit]


  • Waltz of My Heart
  • Wings of Sleep
  • My Life Belongs to You
  • Three Ballet Tunes
  • I Can Give You the Starlight
  • My Dearest Dear
  • Primrose
  • Leap Year Waltz
  • Lorelei


The musical was turned into a popular film in 1950.[6] Televised productions were aired by United Kingdom channels BBC in 1959, and ITV in 1979.[7][8]


  1. ^ "Leontine Sagan Papers, 1902–2011". Wits University. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  2. ^ "Composer Left £160,000 Estate". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania: National Library of Australia. 9 June 1951. p. 8. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  3. ^ Gordon, Robert and Olaf Jubin (eds). The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical, Oxford University Press (2016) ISBN 0199988765
  4. ^ Manzie, Kieth (1 July 1946). "Dancing Years Is Brilliant". The Argus (31, 148). Victoria, Australia. p. 4. Retrieved 10 June 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  5. ^ "Amusements". The Age (28450). Victoria, Australia. 1 July 1946. p. 4. Retrieved 10 June 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  6. ^ Murphy, Robrt (2 Sep 2003). "Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 (page 212)". Routledge UK. ISBN 113490150X – via Google Books.
  7. ^ "The Dancing Years (BBC, 1959)". British Universities Film & Video Council -
  8. ^ "The Dancing Years (Associated Television, 1979)". British Universities Film & Video Council -

External links[edit]