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"Finale to 'Genesis -- the Musical"  

Sketch, (detail)

William Bleak

Although best known as a mail-order catalogue illustrator (examples of his work can be seen in the 1788 Sears, Roebuck® catalogue under "Corsets and Foundation Garments"), young Bleak harbored an unfulfilled desire to design sets for some of the musical extravaganzas that were so popular in 18th-century London. Arnold Lloyal Webern had set the style with his "Phantom of the Beggars' Opera," a revival of the popular John Gay play in which Bridewell Prison was meticulously recreated onstage to the astonishment of theatergoers, who had not anticipated the live rats and the stench.

Bleak endlessly badgered Webern to stage his own original production of "Genesis — the Musical," to the point where Webern had a restraining order sworn out. Repulsed and embittered, Bleak nonetheless finished a 128-sheet scenario and storyboard for the unwritten musical. The detail shown is the last one in the book, illustrating what Blake called "the big blowout leave-'em-gasping-in-the-aisles production number."

Often compared with the Babylon scene in W. D. "40" Griffith's "Intolerance," this number alone featured over 300 dancers and singers backing up God, whom Blake hoped to have played by Augustus "Tapshoe" Wyvern, Jr., as He rewards the triumphant angels (all mounted bareback on tap-dancing Lipizzaners) and condemns the unfaithful angels (sidesaddle on buck-dancing Komodo Dragons).

Bleak was never able to interest Webern or any other impresario of staging his masterpiece. He flung himself from London Bridge in 1809 after illustrating a 22-page suicide note.


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