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The action takes place in New Orleans in 1788, on the plantation of Monsieur Beaunoir, a leading citizen. He is awaiting the arrival of Vicount Ribaud, who has come to New Orleans looking for Robert Mission, a chevalier and Revolutionist who, is wanted by His Majesty for his involvement in a Paris street brawl in which a nobleman was killed. Ribaud, who has traced Mission to the New Orleans plantation, orders a lineup of all the bond-servants but doesn’t find Robert, who determines to escape and sings a farewell to Marianne, Beaunoir’s daughter. This is overheard by Besac and some of his crew. A quarrel ensues which is quelled by the arrival of Beaunoir in time to avoid bloodshed. Captain Duval tries to induce Marianne to share his fortunes, but she is attracted to Robert and will have none of Duval. Robert tells Julie that Marianne needs a master to control her and is overheard by Marianne. She is furious and threatens to have him flogged. Ribaud informs Marianne the man is in love with her and induces her to show herself on her balcony to get Robert to sing to her. Ribaud calls Fouchette to identify Robert and shoots at him but misses. Another shot is heard and Ribaud receives a wound on the wrist.
The scene changes to the interior of a tavern. Robert meets Ribaud there and denounces him as a spy and the men make him a prisoner for awhile. Robert makes his way to New Orleans at Beaunoir’s house, determined to meet Marianne. There is a dance going on and Robert makes his way to the ballroom. Numbers are drawn for the privilege of kissing the hostess and dancing with her. Robert draws the prize, and he and Marianne reach an understanding. A few moments later, Ribaud arrests him and sends him to France as a prisoner on the ship “The New Moon,” to be tried as an assassin and a traitor.
At sea, a vessel has been following them all day and finally overtakes them. It is Philipe’s brig, and Duval and Ribaud are confined as prisoners after a short action and later sent ashore off the Florida Reefs. The colonists are landed on an island in the Caribbean where they set up a small Republic and a year after, celebrate their liberty. Ribaud is accused of betraying the colony to two French Man-of-War ships off the shore, but the colonists are told if they give up Marianne, they are at liberty to follow their bent. Ribaud brings Robert and Marianne together in their island shack and leaves them there. In the early dawn an alarm occurs. Besac sees the ships of Louis XVI rounding the point to anchor. The colonists are alarmed and call for Robert, the dreamer. They curse him but Marianne defends him, as Admiral DeJean lands and announces that France is a Republic and they are free citizens, permitted to make their own laws as part of the French Republic. (Source: Tams-Witmark website.)
In playbills for the original production, there were no credits specifically for music and lyrics. Instead, the authorship credits read:
By Oscar Hammerstein 2nd, Frank Mandel and Laurence Schwab
Music by Sigmund Romberg
Some later productions may have changed this to credit Hammerstein, Mandel and Schwab with the book, and only Hammerstein with the lyrics, but many (perhaps most) later productions have retained the original credits. Although the Encores! concert production retained the original credits in the playbill, in the booklet with the recording of the production, on page 3 (the page with the Track Listing) only Hammerstein is credited with the lyrics. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Fact Book credits only Hammerstein with the lyrics.
The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein (Alfred A. Knopf; New York, 2003), edited by Amy Asch, states the following:
"There is no evidence of how, or if, Schwab, Mandel and Hammerstein collaborated on the lyrics. It is generally thought that neither Schwab nor Mandel wrote lyrics. It may be worth noting that Hammerstein inclued two New Moon selections in his anthology, Lyrics, without special credit to Schwab and Mandel, while he deliberately omitted lyrics from The Desert Song (which he identified as a collaboration with Otto Harback)."
The original orchestrations had originally been credited to Emil Gerstenberger and Alfred Goodman. When preparing for the Encores! concert, musical director Rob Fisher examined the original manuscripts and found that Hans Spialek contributed orchestrations for several of the numbers (including the overture).