Productions and film versions
The leading man in the original Broadway production was Scottish baritone Richard Halliday and the heroine, Vivienne Segal. It was directed by Arthur Hurley and choreographed by Bobby Connolly, who was later to choreograph the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. In the 1927 London production at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane the leading roles were taken by Harry Welchman and Edith Day, and numerous excerpts were recorded with the London cast supported by the Drury Lane orchestra and chorus under conductor Herman Finck. The show was briefly revived on Broadway in 1946 (at New York City Center) and 1973.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Light Opera of Manhattan mounted the operetta several times. To celebrate the centennial of Romberg's birth in 1987, the New York City Opera staged a lavish production with Richard White and Linda Michele. Although old-fashioned by present standards, The Desert Song is still occasionally performed and has been made into a motion picture four times, though the second version was a short subject, rather than a feature-length film. All film versions were made by Warner Brothers.
In 1929, a lavish production was filmed, with Technicolor sequences and starring John Boles and Myrna Loy. This version was scrupulously faithful to and captured the spirit of the original Broadway production and became a huge hit. To capitalize on the success of the original picture, Warner Bros. released a two-reel adaptation of the film in 1932 entitled The Red Shadow. By the 1940s, the original 1929 film had become illegal to view or exhibit in the United States due to its Pre-Code content which included sexual innuendo, lewd suggestive humor and open discussion of themes such as homosexuality. Apparently, the Technicolor sequences have survived only in black-and-white.
A second feature version was made in 1943, which was topically altered to have the hero fighting the Nazis. Filmed (entirely) in three-strip Technicolor, it starred Dennis Morgan and Irene Manning. A third color feature version was made in 1953, with most of the adult themes and humor being removed or "sanitized". This version altered the plot to make General Birabeau the father of Margot, rather than the father of the Red Shadow, as in the play. It starred Kathryn Grayson, Gordon MacRae and featured Allyn McLerie as Azuri. Both the 1943 and the 1953 films changed the hero's name from the Red Shadow to El Khobar. In the 1953 version, El Khobar's disguise was that of a mild-mannered Latin teacher who tutored Margot and had to fend off her amorous advances (which were fairly discreet by modern standards).
Another sanitized version was adapted for live television in 1955 (with Nelson Eddy, Gale Sherwood and Salvatore Baccaloni as Ali Ben Ali). One of the writers brought in to shorten and modernize some risque dialogue was the young Neil Simon.