The Sultan of Sulu Opera

The Real History of The Sultan of Sulu Opera

  • McKinley Presidential Library & Museum and the Canton Comic Opera Company present a historical lecture “How Michael Dowling Pulled His Leg on the Sultan; The real history of THE SULTAN OF SULU”; July 18.


Originally Posted Jul. 5, 2009 at 12:01 AM
Updated Jul 5, 2009 at 5:21 AMCanton, Ohio

The McKinley Presidential Library & Museum and the Canton Comic Opera Company will present a historical multimedia lecture by Barry Pritchard, “How Michael Dowling Pulled His Leg on the Sultan; the Real History of THE SULTAN OF SULU.”  The lecture will be presented on Saturday, July 18 at 2:00 pm at the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive, Canton, Ohio 44708.  The lecture is free of charge.  For more information call (330) 327-2985 or visit the Canton Comic Opera Company’s website at

One of the most successful operettas of its time, THE SULTAN OF SULU toured the country for 5 seasons following its Broadway run, stopping at Canton’s Grand Opera House in 1904 and 1907.  THE SULTAN OF SULU was last performed in Canton by the local Canton Operatic Club in 1922 at the Grand Opera House and has not been revived anywhere in over 70 years.

The history of the 1902 operetta THE SULTAN OF SULU is irretrievably linked to Canton and President McKinley.  Librettist, George Ade’s inspiration to write THE SULTAN OF SULU came from Michael J. Dowling.  Dowling, a native of Minnesota, was sent on a secret mission to the Philippines in 1900 by President William McKinley to survey the educational system and make recommendations for an American system of schools.  While there, he became the first American journalist to be granted an interview with the Sultan of Sulu.  A chance meeting with George Ade in a San Francisco hotel upon his return to the U.S., prompted Ade to write the operetta. In a contemporary newspaper after describing the strange native customs, Dowling prophesized that “if some playwright could have seen this parade and the necessary makeup for its production and could place it in some theatre of the United States, an American audience would go into hysterical laughter over it.”

Barry Pritchard, the grandson of M. J. Dowling, will speak about his grandfather’s fascinating trip to the Philippines in 1900, illustrated by historical photographs.  An exhibit of native swords and weapons from the Island of Sulu will be displayed in conjunction with the lecture.  In addition, the lecture will also encompass the history of the original production.  Joseph N. Rubin, Executive Director of the Canton Comic Opera Company, will discuss the historical and cultural impact of THE SULTAN OF SULU and provide piano accompaniment for a 1914 short film based on a short story by George Ade.

The Canton Comic Opera Company will present THE SULTAN OF SULU with music by Alfred Wathall and Book and Lyrics by George Ade on Thursday, July 16 at 8:00 pm, Saturday, July 18 at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 19 at 2:00 p.m.  All performances will be at the Canton Jewish Community Center Auditorium, 2631 Harvard Ave. N.W., Canton, Ohio 44709.

The Canton Comic Opera Company is a non-profit theatre company, based in Canton, Ohio, dedicated to the preservation and performance of American operettas.  Founded and incorporated in 2003 by executive director, Joseph N. Rubin, the Canton Comic Opera Company is an all volunteer organization providing talented singers and musicians in the Northeastern Ohio community with the opportunity to perform in operetta productions.  The Canton Comic Opera Company is the only theatre company in the world dedicated solely to the performance of historic American operettas.

– See more at:

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s