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by Arthur Robinson

The plot of Gilbert's operetta Haste to the Wedding is, in his own words, "a very free adaption" of Eugène Labiche and Marc-Michel's 1851 farce Le Chapeau de Paille d'Italie. Gilbert had adapted this French play in 1873 under the title The Wedding March (this version, incidentally, was performed at Groton School in 1900 with a cast that included Franklin D. Roosevelt as the senile Uncle Bopaddy), and later wanted to collaborate with Sullivan on a musical setting of the piece, but Sullivan refused. Eventually, Gilbert got George Grossmith, the Savoy's principal comedian, to compose the music. Haste to the Wedding opened on July 27, 1892.

The principal characters are: Woodpecker Tapping, a young man about to marry; Maria Maguire, his bride-to-be; Mr. Maguire, Maria's crotchety father; Alfred Foodle, Maria's moronic cousin; Uncle Bopaddy, an elderly wedding guest; Bella Crackenthorpe, a milliner; The Marchioness of Market Harborough, an "emotional peeress"; Leonora, the owner of the straw hat that gave the French play its title; her "admirer," Captain Bapp; and Major-General Bunthunder.


As the play begins, Woodpecker Tapping is preparing for his marriage to Maria, a "charming girl" who has "only one drawback": her cousin Alfred Foodle. Maria will not allow Woodpecker to kiss her, since they are not yet married and kissing would be "highly improper," but her Cousin Foodle is allowed to kiss her, and does.

Uncle Bopaddy arrives to bring a hat-box (containing his gift to the bride) and some avuncular advice for the bridegroom. Woodpecker ignores the advice but recounts to Bopaddy an adventure he has just had (Bopaddy is deaf, but that doesn't deter Woodpecker): while he was out riding, his horse began eating a straw hat belonging to a "young and lovely lady who was indulging in an affectionate tête-à-tête with a military gentleman."

After Bopaddy leaves, the young lady herself, Leonora, arrives with her escort, Captain Bapp. Bapp berates Woodpecker for having "devoured this lady's hat" (as he points out, Woodpecker is responsible for his horse's actions) and demands an apology and a replacement hat. The hat was a gift from Leonora's husband, whom she describes as "the most jealous man in the world"; if she returns without a hat, her husband will know she has been deceiving him. (It is not clear why having one's hat eaten by a horse is a proof of infidelity, or why she can't tell her husband the truth without mentioning Captain Bapp; but then there would have been no play.) Woodpecker supplies the apology and offers to get her a new hat the next day, but Leonora insists on staying in his house until he brings the hat. Woodpecker is somewhat concerned about how his bride will react if she finds another woman in her new husband's house, and hides Leonora as the wedding party arrives.

The chorus sings an "epithalamium" in honor of the couple, but Maguire, the bride's father, enters and, upset at having been kept waiting, calls off the wedding and announces that Maria will marry Foodle instead. The chorus, unfazed, repeat their song in honour of the new couple, but when Woodpecker apologizes, his wedding is on again, and the chorus sing their song once more (just as in Ruddigore). Maguire calls off the wedding again when Woodpecker, seeking an excuse to buy a new hat for Leonora, says he has lost the marriage licence, but relents when the groom explains they can get another on the way to the church.

The second scene of Act I takes place in a milliner's shop. Woodpecker, having left the wedding party outside in eight cabs on the pretence that he is obtaining a new licence at Doctor's Commons, enters and sings his order for a straw hat "trimmed with an armadillo's claw, three truffles and a bun, two thingummies of peacock blue," not to mention a cockatoo, a peach, etc. (it sounds like Carmen Miranda's headgear). The milliner turns out to be an old flame, Bella Crackenthorpe. It seems that six months ago Woodpecker left her standing under a portico during a rainstorm "to borrow a friend's umbrella," and after a few months under the portico Bella grew tired of waiting. Woodpecker placates her by renewing his promise to marry her; she becomes jealous when he again requests the hat, but is satisfied when he explains that he's buying it for a Captain in the Guards. As she goes off to look for such a hat, the wedding guests enter en masse, and throughout the rest of the scene they cause confusion with their conviction that they are at Doctor's Commons.

Maguire calls off the wedding again when he sees his son-in-law-elect kissing Bella, but Woodpecker, inspired by Foodle, says that Bella is his cousin, so that makes it all right. Unfortunately, Bella has sold her only hat of the type wanted to a Marchioness, so Woodpecker sets off to try to buy it from her, followed again by the wedding party.


Act II is set at the Marchioness's residence. She is awaiting the arrival of the talented but eccentric Italian Falsetto, Nisnardi. When Woodpecker arrives (he found time to get married on the way, but now he has again shut the wedding guests out, pretending this time that he is arranging for the wedding breakfast), she assumes that he is Nisnardi, and they talk at cross-purposes.

Her guests arrive; Woodpecker is disturbed to learn that he is supposed to be a singer and pretends that he has lost his voice and will not regain it until his whim — for the Marchioness's straw hat — has been satisfied. She goes off to get it, and Maguire, now "rather tipsy," appears; again the wedding guests have not stayed put — they are now helping themselves to the expensive luncheon that the Marchioness has prepared for her guests. The Marchioness's maid arrives with the straw hat — but it is the wrong one; when Woodpecker describes the one he wants, he learns that the Marchioness has given that hat to her niece, Mrs. Major-General Bunthunder. Woodpecker tries to sneak out, but is caught; then the Marchioness and her guests discover the wedding party devouring their luncheon. Woodpecker escapes in the confusion and sets out to find Mrs. Bunthunder. (Have you figured out what has become of the Marchioness's hat yet? Ed.)


The first scene of Act III takes place in Major-General Bunthunder's house. Bunthunder, worried, (and suspicious) because his wife went out that morning to get some Barcelona nuts and has not returned, is taking a footbath when Woodpecker arrives. The harassed Bunthunder insists he is not at home and doesn't know when he will be returning, but Woodpecker is sceptical. Bunthunder asks what Woodpecker wants, and he replies "Your wife." The jealous Bunthunder wants to know if Woodpecker know his wife; he replies that he doesn't, but "she possesses something that I am most anxious to purchase." Bunthunder informs him that it is not for sale.

Woodpecker, not believing Bunthunder's claim that his wife is not hat home either, goes off to look for her (and, more importantly, her hat). Meanwhile, Maguire and the rest of the wedding party arrive, again creating chaos. Finally Bunthunder catches up with Woodpecker, who explains that he needs Mrs. Bunthunder's hat to give to a married woman who is at his lodgings. Bunthunder is amused, and the two keep digging each other in the ribs (singing "Ha, ha! Ho, ho! Sly dog!") as they discuss the situation.

Their new-found camaraderie ends abruptly when Woodpecker exhibits the remains of the hat he is trying to replace. Bunthunder recognizes the hat was his wife's, and Woodpecker realizes that the hat he has been running after all day is "the hat ill-fated my horse this morning masticated." Instead of a hat, he has found Leonora's jealous husband, who drags him off stage — followed by the wedding guests, who dance blithely after them.

The final scene is set in the street outside Woodpecker's house. The guests have arrived before the groom, but the valet won't let them in because "the lady who is stopping with master — the lady without a hat" is still upstairs. The guests are shocked to learn that the bridegroom has a lady staying with him ("And without a hat!" exclaims Maria, fainting into Foodle's arms). Maguire announces that he will get his daughter divorced. Maria inquires tragically whether she will ever see her love again. When her father says she won't, she suggest that in that case they should take back the wedding presents.

Woodpecker arrives, and in the ensuing quarrel, Bopaddy's gift for the bride falls to the ground — it is a straw hat, the exact duplicate of Leonora's. Woodpecker goes into the house to get Leonora, but Maguire takes the hat back unobserved. A policeman comes along and arrests the entire wedding party.

Woodpecker, Leonora, and Bapp emerge from the house to discover that the hat is gone. They hear Bunthunder coming; Woodpecker gets Leonora out of the way by giving her in charge to the policeman as drunk and disorderly. Bunthunder then arrives and announces that he will shoot himself, his wife, and Woodpecker, who replies "By all means — only take me last!"

Bunthunder, unable to find his wife in the house, apologizes to Woodpecker. Leonora and the wedding guests, bailed out by Bapp, emerge from the police station; she (wearing the hat) accuses her husband of having been "on clandestine jaunts" while she waited for him all day at her aunt's. He apologizes to her as well — then realizes she doesn't have the Barcelona nuts. But the others ignore him, and sing the epithalamium one last time as the curtain falls.

This article appeared in Issue 42 (May 1995) of Precious Nonsense, the newsletter of the Midwestern Gilbert & Sullivan Society. Posted by permission of Sarah Cole, Society Secretary/Archivist. For information on Society membership write to: The Midwestern Gilbert & Sullivan Society, c/o Miss Sarah Cole, 613 W. State St., North Aurora, IL 60542-1538.

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