The Desert Song

Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, Frank Mandel, Sigmund Romberg

Full Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy  /  3f, 6m

Book and Lyrics by Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II and Frank Mandel / Music by Sigmund Romberg

With mystery, intrigue, and romance, Sigmund Romberg's operetta dramatizes the 1925 uprising of the Riffs, a group of Moroccan fighters, against French colonial rule.
The Desert Song
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  • Cast Size
    Cast Size
    3f, 6m
  • Duration
    More than 120 minutes (2 hours)
  • SubGenre
  • Audience
    Target Audience
    • Appropriate for all audiences
The Desert Song is an operetta with music by Sigmund Romberg and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, and Frank Mandel. It was inspired by the 1925 uprising of the Riffs, a group of Moroccan fighters, against French colonial rule.
The Desert Song opened on Broadway on November 30, 1926 at the Casino Theatre, starring Vivienne Segal and Robert Halliday. The show later moved to the Century and Imperial Theatres, playing for a total of 471 performances. The Desert Song has been revived twice on Broadway and several times elsewhere in New York, notably by the New York City Opera in 1987.
French General Birabeau has been sent to Morocco to root out and destroy the Riffs, a band of Arab rebels, who threaten the safety of the French outpost in the Moroccan desert. Their dashing, daredevil leader is the mysterious "Red Shadow," a Frenchman. The Red Shadow, his Arab lieutenant, Sid El Kar, and their wealthy host, Ali Ben Ali, discuss the relative merits of the Eastern tradition of love for a harem of women (like having a garden full of fragrant flowers), and the Western ideal of loving one woman for life. Margot Bonvalet, a lovely, sassy French girl, is soon to be married at the French fort to Birabeau's right-hand man, Captain Fontaine. Birabeau's son Pierre, in reality the Red Shadow, loves Margot, but pretends to be a milksop to preserve his secret identity. Meanwhile Benny, a reporter, and the girl who loves him, Susan, provide comic relief.

Margot tells Pierre that she secretly yearns to be swept into the arms of some bold, dashing sheik, perhaps even the Red Shadow himself. Pierre, as the Red Shadow, kidnaps Margot and declares his love for her. To her surprise, Margot's mysterious abductor treats her with every western consideration. Benny and Susan are captured too. When the Red Shadow comes face to face with General Birabeau, the old man challenges the rebel leader to a duel. Of course Pierre will not kill his own father, so he refuses to fight, losing the respect of the Riffs. Azuri, the sinuous and secretive native dancing girl, who knows the secret of the Red Shadow's true identity, might be persuaded to reveal the information if she could capture the attention of Captain Fontaine. Eventually, the Red Shadow's identity is discovered, a deal is struck with the Riffs, and Pierre and Margot live happily ever after.


Performing Groups
  • College Theatre / Student
  • Community Theatre
  • Professional Theatre
  • Large Stage

Licence details

  • Licensing fees and rental materials quoted upon application.



  • Time Period: 1920s
  • Duration: More than 120 minutes (2 hours)
  • Setting: Northern Africa. 1925.
  • Features / Contains: Period Costumes


3f, 6m
Cast Attributes
  • Expandable casting
  • Strong Role for Leading Man (Star Vehicle)

(3 female; 6 male)

Margot Bonvalet – Lively, sassy French girl
Susan – General Birabeau's ward
Clementina – A Spanish “lady”

Pierre Birabeau - The "Red Shadow"
Sid El Kar – The Red Shadow’s Lieutenant
Benjamin Kidd – Former society correspondent of the Paris Herald
General Birabeau – Governor of a French Moroccan Province
Capt. Paul Fontaine - Birabeau's right-hand man
Ali Ben Ali – wealthy leader of a Riff tribe


Ethel – Susan's friend
Azuri – Ben Ali’s favorite
Neri – An old native woman
Mindar & Hassi – Leading members of the Red Shadow’s Band
Sergeant La Vergne – Of the French Foreign Legion
Sergeant De Boussac – Of the French Foreign Legion


SATB Chorus, including singers for the parts of Neri, Ethel, Mindar, La Vergne and De Boussac


  • Musical Style: Operetta
  • Dance Requirements: Easy
  • Vocal Demands: Difficult
  • Orchestra Size: Large
  • Chorus Size: Large

Act I

1. “High On A Hill” – Sid & Riffs
2. “The Riff Song” – Red Shadow, Sid & Riffs
2a. Reprise: “The Riff Song” – Red Shadow, Sid & Riffs
3. Finaletto, Scene 1 – Red Shadow & Sid
3a-b. Entrance of Azuri – Orchestra
4. “Margot” – Paul & Soldiers
4a. Finale, Scene 1 – Orchestra
5. “I’ll Be A Buoyant Girl” – Susan
6. “Why Did We Marry Soldiers?” – Soldiers' Wives
7. “French Military Marching Song” – Margot & Ensemble
8. “Romance” – Margot & Soldiers' Wives
8a. Incidental Music – Orchestra
9. “Then You Will Know” – Pierre & Margot
10. “I Want A Kiss” – Paul, Margot, Pierre & Ensemble
11. “It” – Benjamin, Susan and Girls
11a. Incidental Music – Orchestra
12. “The Desert Song” – Margot & Pierre
13. Finale Act 1 – Company

Act II

14. Entr’acte – Orchestra
15. “My Little Castagnette” – Clementina & Girls
16. “Song of the Brass Key” – Clementina & Girls
16a. Spanish Dance – Orchestra
16b. Reprise: “Song of the Brass Key” – Clementina & Margot
17. “One Good Boy Gone Wrong” – Benjamin & Clementina
18. Eastern and Western Love:

  • “Let Love Go” – Ali & Men
  • “One Flower In Your Garden” – Sid & Men
  • “One Alone” – Pierre & Men

18a. Incidental/Finaletto Scene 2 – Orchestra
19. Opening Scene 3 – Orchestra
20. “The Sabre Song” – Margot & Red Shadow
21. Finaletto Scene 3 – Pierre & Margot
22. “Farewell” – Red Shadow & Riffs
23. “All Hail To The General” – Margot & Girls
23a. Entrance of Susan & Bennie – Orchestra
24. Reprise: “It” – Benjamin
25. Dance of Triumph – Ensemble
26. Finale – Company

Full Orchestration

Violin I (stand 1)
Violin I (stand 2)
Violin I (stand 3)
Viola I
Viola II

Flute I & II
Oboe / English Horn
Clarinet I & II

Horn I & II
Trumpet I & II




Rehearsal Resources

Music Material Rental Packages Glyphs / UI / Tooltip

Full Package:
15 Piano/Conductor Score
30 Prompt Book
30 Chorus Vocal
2 Flute 1 & 2
1 Oboe – English Horn
2 Clarinet 1 & 2
2 Horn 1 & 2
2 Trumpet 1 & 2
1 Trombone
1 Percussion
1 Harp
1 Violin 1 – stand 1
1 Violin 1 – stand 2
1 Violin 1 – stand 2
1 Viola 1
1 Viola 2
1 Cello
1 Bass

Piano Only:
15 Piano/Conductor
30 Prompt Book
30 Chorus Vocal Book


Music Samples



Oscar Hammerstein II

Oscar Hammerstein II was born on July 12, 1895 in New York City. His father, William, was a theatre manager and for many years director of Hammerstein's Victoria, the most popular vaudeville theatre of its day. His uncle, Arthur Hammerstein, was a successful Broadway producer and his grandfather, Os ...

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Otto Harbach


Frank Mandel


Sigmund Romberg

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