Originally published on Torontoist on June 29, 2010.
As a holiday matinee, a light musical about stolen kisses sounds more appropriate for Valentine’s Day than Thanksgiving. How well a production about a turkey bandit might have done at the Royal Alex near the end of World War I is debatable—would a dashing young man dressed as holiday fowl leer over the stunned damsel in an advertisement similar to this one?
The Kiss Burglar debuted on Broadway on May 9, 1918 and ran for one hundred performances before hitting the road. The story concerned an American staying in Trieste who, while fleeing a gambler, winds up in the boudoir of a local princess. She thinks he’s a thief, but all he steals is a kiss. The princess soon flees to the US due to the war and runs into the young man again. He steals another kiss, they realize they’re in love, and live happily ever after.
Local newspaper previews of the day tended to be regurgitated publicist copy, but there are subtle hints dotted throughout a piece that ran in the News on October 12, 1918 which indicate that the writer determined they had a piece of fluff on their hands. The show is described as having “a light theme—very light—an exquisite love story.” Playwright Glen MacDonough “has tried to get away from all viewpoint[s] and instill more idealism into his little romance,” while composer Raymond Hubbell had “more successes to his credit than any American composer” despite no mention of his other hits (we suspect only the Man in Chair from The Drowsy Chaperone might be aware of his work today). The review printed three days later was lukewarm toward star Patricia O’Hearn (described as having a “dainty figure” but a weak voice) and concluded that “the play, while diverting, does not rank among the best of the season” (which, given critical standards in Toronto papers at the time, indicates it was a true stinker). The World displayed next to no criticism in its review, as it praised O’Hearn for her ability to handle the “new jazz steps that made a fascinating appeal” during a dance number.
The reputation of The Kiss Burglar has not improved over time. A historical survey of American musical theatre published a decade ago noted that “Glen MacDonough’s book and Raymond Hubbell’s music were never much more than competent.”
Additional material from American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle (third edition) by Gerald Martin Boardman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), the October 12, 1918 and October 15, 1918 editions of the News, and the October 15, 1918 edition of the Toronto World.