Morskie Oko was a legendary music hall founded by Andrzej Włast active in Warsaw between 1928 and 1933. It’s known for its variety shows imitating the Parisian style, filled with music and promoting numerous hits, which often featured dance and acrobatic performances as well.
The mid-1920s in Poland was a time of economic growth, which resulted in the appearance of a new theatrical audience, hungry first and foremost for entertainment – maybe not as subtle as Julian Tuwim’s jokes written for the Qui Pro Quo theatre. This audience wanted splendour, elegant costumes, a crowd of girls onstage and the shine of real and (more frequently) less real jewels. In other words: an audience with an appetite for shows in the Parisan style appeared. Morskie Oko catered to this desire for Paris-style entertainment – the legendary Warsaw-based music hall was active from 1928 to 1933 with the satirist Andrzej Włast at its helm. He was both its director and main writer, inspired by magnificent shows from the City of Lights: Moulin Rouge and, especially, Casino de Paris. Morskie Oko’s direct predecessor was a small theatre called Perskie Oko (Persian Eye) which emerged as an effect of a division in the Qui Pro Quo theatre which was famous in the 1920s.
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The modernist-style Modern Theatre building (designed in 1915 by Czesław Przybylski) on 3 Jasna Street was Morskie Oko’s headquarters. The hall specialised in imitating Parisian elegance and was especially famous for its girl bands managed by Eugeniusz Koszutski. It was somewhat different from the Qui Pro Quo theatre, which had greater literary ambitions. Still, during their few years of simultaneous activity, they were often rivals, stealing each other’s audience and biggest stars. Thus, Morskie Oko’s biggest names such as Zuza Pogorzelska, Hanna Ordonowa, Konrad Tom, Kazimierz Krukowski, Lena Żelichowska and others could also be seen on Qui Pro Quo’s stage. Ludwik Sempoliński was an exception – he was a singer, actor and director who remained loyal to Morskie Oko through its entire existence. Loda Halama, a renowned dancer and actress who often performed with her sister Zizi, had her greatest successes on this scene.
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Morskie Oko was often called ‘Warsaw’s Casino de Paris’. It was also a theatre which always put an emphasis on its Varsovian origins. This is why the titles of the shows often include the name of the Polish capital: Dla Ciebie Warszawo (For you, Warsaw), Klejnoty Warszawy (Warsaw’s Jewels) and the most famous finale Cała Warszawa Zobaczyć Musi To (All of Warsaw has to See This). Morskie Oko is one of the legends of pre-war Warsaw and one of the reasons why the city was nicknamed ‘Paris of the North’.
Because of the splendour and appeasement of an audience hungry for simpler entertainment, Morskie Oko’s viewers were mostly people of lesser intellectual needs: upstart industrialists, traders and gentry. However, that did not mean that an audience with more sublime tastes avoided this Paris-style music hall.
Morskie Oko was active for five seasons. Andrzej Włast did not participate in the last one. The music hall was managed by three quickly changing directors – among them was the director of the (already inactive at the time) Qui Pro Quo theatre, Jerzy Boczkowski. He was replaced by Leon Schiller for a few weeks, who had staged an operetta by Suppé Boccaccio.
Many years later, one of the theatre’s lead actors, Ludwik Sempoliński, reminisced:
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The operetta was staged beautifully – its quality was what one could expect of Schiller. It lacked just one thing – humour. When the vagabonds entered the scene, the audience had goosebumps. This is why the show stayed for only two days.
Kazimierz Krukowski was Morskie Oko’s final director – and only for a period of three months.
The history of ‘Warsaw’s Casino de Paris’ ended with the Warsaw Revue, which premiered on 3rd June 1933. On 9th July, the theatre was finally closed. The main reason was most definitely the economic crisis which, in the early 1930s, had a big and painful impact on Poland and chased the impoverished audience from theatre halls. Another reason was the salaries of the biggest stars which made the theatre go broke.
There was yet another reason for the failure – changing fads. The Paris-style revue stopped being as popular as in the late 1920s and was being overtaken by musical comedy. However, that did not mean that, with the shutdown of the theatre, Morskie Oko’s style became history.
Andrzej Włast tried to continue the project by opening more revue theatres: in 1933, after Morskie Oko’s shutdown, he created Rex Theatre, in which Fryderyk Járosy himself performed. When it also flopped, Włast opened the Wielka Rewia (Great Revue) music hall in the Panoramy building at 18 Karowa Street. It remained active until January 1939 when it was replaced by the literary theatre Ali Baba (which was active in the same building but in another, smaller room until a few days after the outbreak of the war). The creation of Ali Baba and its short lifespan was a symbolical closure of the period of Warsaw Paris-style entertainment. Today, not much remains after that era. The building of Morskie Oko, wiped off the face of the Earth during the Warsaw Uprising, was replaced by an annexe of the neighbouring building (Dom pod Orłami), a headquarters of banking institutions. The Panorama building was demolished in September 1939 and was replaced by a residential building in the 1980s.
Originally written in Polish by Tomasz Mościcki, June 2010, translated into English by Patryk Grabowski, June 2019
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