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The Vagabond King is a 1925 operetta by Rudolf Friml, with a book and lyrics by Brian Hooker and William H. Post, telling a romanticized tale concerning the 15th century poet François Villon.
The original production opened at the Casino Theatre on September 21, 1925. It starred Dennis King as Villon and Carolyn Thomson as Katherine and ran for a successful 511 performances. The production was lavish and used an unusually large pit orchestra. The operetta then had a successful run in London in 1927 at the Winter Garden Theatre, running for 480 performances, and toured extensively.
Filled with romance, swordplay, high aspirations and low comedy, The Vagabond King recreates the world of medieval Paris saved from the Burgundians by a “king for a day”–the poet-thief François Villon. Paris is under siege by the forces of the Duke of Burgundy and popular support of King Louis XI is at a low point. Poet, braggart, thief Villon, the darling of the Paris rabble, has sent anonymous love poems to the beautiful Katherine de Vaucelles, causing her to reject proposals from King Louis. She goes to seek the mysterious poet at an inn, but King Louis shadows her in disguise. Louis is incensed to hear Villon mocking the failures of his reign and saying what he would do instead “if I were king.” The infuriated monarch reveals himself. As punishment for his treasonous speech, he gives Villon a hard choice: he must either shut up and give up courting Katherine or accept the position of Grand Marshal — with all the powers of King — for 24 hours during which time he must make good on his boasts and free Paris. If he chooses the second but fails, Villon will hang.