Leslie Stuart (15 March 1863 – 27 March 1928) was an English composer of early musical theatre, best known for the hit show Florodora (1899) and many popular songs. Stuart was born in Southport as Thomas Augustine Barrett.
Stuart's earliest theatrical composing and writing was also for the Manchester theatre. Here he provided songs and incidental music for, in particular, the local pantomime which boasted famous names in their casts. One such pantomime, Aladdin was presented in 1896. Stuart made a name in the 1890s by writing popular individual numbers that were interpolated into several West End and touring musicals by other composers. Later in his career, he would actively oppose this practice. The first of these songs was "Louisiana Lou". This had already been published and performed in music hall before being picked up by Ellaline Terriss and inserted, along with "The Little Mademoiselle", into the original production of The Shop Girl (1894) that was being performed at the Gaiety Theatre.
During the run of George Edwardes's An Artist's Model (1895), Stuart wrote several numbers that were interpolated (including "The Soldiers of the Queen", that was later famous as "Soldiers of the King") and both wrote the lyric and composed "Trilby Will Be True" for Maurice Farkoa to perform at Daly's Theatre. Subsequently he had songs used in Baron Golosh, The Circus Girl (1896), the London production of the American musical A Day in Paris (1897), Carl Kiefert's The Ballet Girl (1897) and The Yashmak (1897).
Stuart composed some 65 songs including, in addition to those mentioned above, "The Bandolero", and "Little Dolly Daydream." His instrumental pieces included at least one Cakewalk. As a songwriter, Stuart suffered so much from the effects of musical piracy that it can be speculated that his move to the musical theatre was an attempt to avoid the loss of income from the pirating of royalties from the publication of sheet music and performances.
|Music from Leslie Stuart and Owen Hall's Florodora (1899)|
Stuart was an active campaigner for intellectual property rights and called for tighter laws on both national and international copyright. Publishers and wealthy second-rate songwriters would pay producers, for the exposure, to insert their songs into a hit musical. With the strength of the fame of Florodora behind him, Stuart succeeded in stopping this practice in his next few pieces. Similarly, he had succeeded from time to time in parts of his fight in Britain and in America against music piracy and on behalf of firmer national and international copyright laws.
The success of these led George Edwardes to hope that Stuart would be able to replace the Caryll and Monckton writing partnership on their departure from the Gaiety Theatre. Stuart's next show, Captain Kidd (1909), however, was not for the Gaiety, and it was a flop, as was The Slim Princess (1910). Peggy was produced at the Gaiety in 1911. Although it achieved reasonable success and he wrote another show, The Slim Princess (1911), for Broadway at the same time, he did not produce any major new hits during this period.
Stuart retained an income, provided by continued revivals and performances of the popular Florodora, and supplemented this by appearing in variety theatre, where he performed his most famous songs accompanying himself on the piano. However, after the bankruptcy, he began to drink and have marital problems. Stuart's last years were spent partly in trying to produce his musical play Nina, also known as The Girl from Nyusa. He and his librettist, Cosmo Hamilton, signed for a production in the U.S. with the Shubert brothers, but they were badly treated by the American impresarios.
A 1940 Biographical film entitled You Will Remember, directed by Jack Raymond, starred Robert Morley in the Leslie Stuart role and Emlyn Williams. The screen writers were Lydia Hayward, Sewell Stokes and Christopher D. Morley.
Stuart was evasive about his true age. Various different years of birth have been given, and no official birth record is known to exist. However, his 1871 and 1881 census entries seem to establish that he was born in 1863.