Oscar Asche as Abu Hasan in the musical Chu Chin Chow

Oscar Asche as Abu Hasan in the musical Chu Chin Chow

Oscar Asche based his musical Chu Chin Chow on Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. However, Ali Baba got left in the background. Oscar himself played the strongly dramatic role of Abu Hasan, the robber chieftain. His wife Lily Brayton played his equally forceful captive, Zahrat Al-Kulub. Asche’s deal with Henry Dana, manager of His Majesty’s Theatre, was that he would take a small percentage fee, which would go up if the show took £50,000 (nearly £1million today) in the first 20 weeks. Because of the war, Dana was confident it wouldn’t even run that long. Sadly for him, Chu Chin Chow opened on 31 August 1916, and ran for nearly five years, smashing all box office records. Everyone involved made a fortune, especially Oscar Asche. The £50,000 was reached in just 17 weeks so, for the rest of the run, he got a 20% cut of all profits. By 1924 the show had earned him £120,000 (over £2 million today). He also had a second hit on his hands with his production The Maid of the Mountains. But Asche was an inveterate gambler and by 1926 he was bankrupt.