“The Sultan of Sulu” a musical satire with lyrics and dialogue by George Ade and music by Alfred G. Wathall was produced at the Studebaker Theatre, Chicago, March 11, 1902.
Ki-Ram, the Sultan of Sulu. Col. Jefferson Budd, of the Volunteers. Lieut. William Hardy, of the Regulars. Hadji Tantong, the Sultan’s private secretary. Datto Mandi, of Parang. Wakeful M. Jones, agent and salesman. Dingbat, captain of the guards. Rastos, Didymos, Nubian slaves. Henrietta Budd, the Colonel’s daughter. Miss Pamela Frances Jackson, judge advocate. Chiquita, wife number one. Galula, the faithful one. Ki-Ram’s other wives. The four Boston school ma’ams. United States soldiers, marines, imperial guards, American girls, slaves, natives and attendants.
Sulu, or Jolo, is the largest of the southerly islands in the Philippine group. The Sultan, whose real name is Hadji Mohammed Jamulul Ki-Ram, has hitherto found his rule undisputed save by certain chiefs with whom he has kept up a running warfare, one feature of which has been the abduction of women. The natives of Sulu are Mohammedans, polygamists and slaveholders. In 1899, after the Spanish-American war, the American troops land in Sulu and after some parleying, come to a peaceable agreement with the Malay ruler, who retains his title of Sultan and becomes governor at a fixed salary. ” The Sultan of Sulu ” shows what might have happened.
When the curtain rises the natives are celebrating in song the majesty of the Sultan and his brother, the Sun, with the Sultan somewhat in the lead. Six of Ki-Ram’s wives appear for the morning round-up and Hadji, the private secretary, calls the roll. He also informs them that their uncle, the Datto Mandi of Parang, is encamped near the city, having come for the purpose of recapturing them. They express their entire willingness to be recaptured and remind him that it was only because they were offered their choice between an ignominious death and Ki-Ram that they hesitated and chose Ki-Ram.
The next important event is the arrival of Lieut. William Hardy of the United States Regulars, with a company of soldiers. He announces their mission, which is as follows :
We want to assimilate, if we can Our brother who is brown; We love our dusky fellow man And we hate to hunt him down. So, when we perforate his frame, We want him to be good, We shoot at him to make him tame, If he but understood.
While the Sultan is closeted in his palace, sending out word that he will die before he surrenders, there arrives Colonel Budd, a military hero, his eye fixed on Congress, with his daughter Henrietta Budd, Wakeful M. Jones, Pamela Frances Jackson and the four schoolma’ams. Learning that the Sultan is within making his will, Mr. Jones unheeding Chiquita’s warning that death is the punishment for entering the majestic presence unheralded, rushes into the palace to talk life insurance.
” Poor man,” sighs Chiquita. ” Don’t worry about Mr. Jones,” returns Hardy, reassuringly. “He’s from Chicago.”
Ki-Ram comes out in funereal black, the picture of woe. He expects to die and enumerates the reasons of regret for leaving the smiling isle of Sulu. Budd interrupts his farewell speech to tell him that they have only come to take possession of the island and to teach the benighted people the advantage of free government. ” We hold that all government derives its just power from the consent of the governed,” he continues. ” Now, the question is, do you consent to this benevolent plan?”
” Are all the guns loaded? ” inquires Ki-Ram, looking carefully around.
” They are.”
” I consent,” says Ki-Ram.
His attention being called to the luscious quartet of schoolma’ams, he is visibly impressed with the new scheme of education. The next step is to change him from a sultan to a governor, that noblest work of the campaign committee. While Ki-Ram and Budd are left together talking politics, the former feels a draught and looking around finds his worst suspicions confirmed. Galula, the charter member of the bevy of wives, is fanning him. Reminded by him that absence makes the heart grow fonder, she sadly departs. Ki-Ram, under the influence of several cocktails (Colonel Budd has given him the glad information that the cocktail, as well as the constitution, follows the flag) suppresses his jubilant desire to climb a tree and instead proposes to Miss Pamela Frances Jackson, who, when she learns that she is merely wanted to complete a set of wives, threatens in her capacity as judge advocate to make him give up all of them. He consoles himself with the idea that he will thus get rid of Galula, while the wives are delighted with the prospect of being grass-widows, as they are getting on famously with the soldiers.
Ki-Ram is interrupted in his proposal of marriage to the four schoolma’ams by the preparations for the inaugural. One of the preliminaries is the presentation of a silk hat as the insignia of office. All the characters previously introduced enter, the Sultan assumes the hat and the band plays ” The Star Spangled Banner.”
Act II opens on the hanging gardens of the palace. The natives are singing a lullaby to Ki-Ram, who is over-sleeping himself in the apartment below. While they are singing, Ki-Ram appears in his pajamas. His head is wrapped in a large towel. He carries in one hand a water-pitcher, and in the other his silk hat. The expression on his face is one of extreme misery. He dips the towel in the ice-water and holds it against his throbbing brow. Discovering numerous specimens of the insect family disporting themselves about him, he does battle with them and then breaks forth into a doleful song whose burden is ” R-E-M-O-R-S-E.” It appears that Ki-Ram has communed with the cocktail on the preceding night and has absorbed twenty-three of these concoctions. His dejection is not lessened by Judge Jackson’s information that seven of his wives have been granted divorces and that he may keep only one. He is trying to decide which one to keep when Henrietta Budd appears in a stunning outfit, with her arms full of roses, and he resolves not to keep any of them. When he makes violent love to her, she warns him as a titled foreigner, that although she is an American girl she is not an heiress. ” Henrietta,” returns Ki-Ram, ” you wrong me. I am Sulu, not English.”
Pamela pursues Ki-Ram like Nemesis and informs him that he must keep one wife and that one must be the first one, who is Galula. He is further overwhelmed by the news that according to the law he will have to pay each wife alimony equivalent to one-half his income. Hadji suggests as a way out of this financial difficulty that Datto Mandi recapture the wives. Overjoyed at the suggestion, Ki-Ram immediately appoints the unwilling Hadji bearer of the message to Mandi that, while the Imperiall Guards are over at the north wall repulsing an imaginary attack, he can come in by the south gate and get his nieces. Soon after Hadji’s departure rifle-shots are heard and he is brought in between two marines ” badly mussed up,” the traitorous message having been found upon his person. Ki-Ram pleads ignorance as to who sent it but Pamela’s legal mind has its suspicions. Reminding him that he hasn’t paid his alimony on time, she has him handcuffed to Hadji and put under guard. The two, having opportunity to cogitate, hatch up a scheme to marry off the wives. Budd and Chiquita fall easily into the net and gradually the rest of the harem pair off with members of the Imperial Guard. They are looking for someone to perform the ceremony when the unpleasant Pamela again spoils things by the decision that a divorcée cannot remarry within the year. Meantime, a fierce and bearded warrior, none other than the Datto Mandi of Parang, approaches stealthily and is about to despatch Ki-Ram with his long sword, when that worthy is saved by Jones, who has just insured his life for 50,000 pesos.
There is a sound of brass band music and the Sulu Democratic and Republican marching clubs arrive with their candidates, the dusky waiters Didymos and Rastos. The disgusted Ki-Ram is about to go voluntarily to jail for the rest of his natural life, when a despatch-boat arrives with orders announcing among other things the Supreme Court’s decision that the constitution follows the flag only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, in which case Ki-Ram is no longer convict number 47. He is the Sultan and his first act of regained authority is to send Pamela Frances Jackson back to Boston.
” The Sultan of Sulu ” derives its importance not so much from its music as from the fact that in subject-matter it is probably the most national of all the comic operas written by an American. National weaknesses and idiosyncrasies are drawn with the peculiar dry humor best understood and enjoyed by a citizen of the republic.
Among the most successful songs in the opera are ” Since I First Met You,” ” R-e-m-o-r-s-e,” ” Hike ” (soldiers’ song), ” Rosabella Clancey,” “Delia” and “Oh! What a Bump.”