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Having enjoyed great prosperity throughout much of 1903, the Palace entered a period of mixed success, including long periods of darkness, as ELISABETH KUMM discovers in Part 6 of the Palace Theatre story.

Following the departure of Daniel Frawley’s company on Friday, 11 September 1903, The Players commenced a six night season from 12 September, performing the A.W. Pinero comedy Dandy Dick for their first three nights and concluding with Sydney Grundy’s drama Sowing the Wind for their final three nights.

On Thursday, 17 September, the Musical and Dramatic Profession tendered a Testimonial Matinee Performance to Mr. W.J. Wilson (1833–1909). The seventy year old scenic artist, who was recovering from a long illness, had experienced a long career in Australia, having arrived in Melbourne from England in 1855. A mixed program was presented with members of the various Williamson, Anderson, Holloway, and Rickards’ companies participating.

Saturday, 19 September saw the return of George Willoughby and Edwin Geach’s company with a new farce Mistakes Will Happen by Grant Stewart. Presented by special arrangement with Charles Arnold, the farce had first seen the light of day in June 1898 when it was given a trial run by the stock company at the Grand Opera House, St Paul, Minneapolis. By August it had been taken up by producer Jacob Litt and toured successfully for several years with Charles Dickson in the lead. It finally reached New York on 3 March 1902 where it was performed by the stock company of Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre. Jacob Litt’s production didn’t reach New York until 14 May 1906 when it played a week’s season at the Garrick Theatre with Charles Dickson as Tom Genowin.

The play concerns an impoverished actor (Tom Genowin) who is seeking a backer for a play he has written; Dorothy Mayland, an actress, whom Tom has secretly married; Mr. And Mrs. Hunter-Chase who both have their own reasons for wanting to see the play produced—the former is in love with Dorothy and the latter is an aspiring actress. A key scene in the play is one where two rooms—a carriage-house (below) and a hayloft (above)—are both represented on the stage so the audience can see the action in the two rooms simultaneously; with Tom meeting Mrs. Hunter Chase in the hayloft for acting lessons, and the Dorothy meeting with Mr. Hunter Chase in the carriage-house for a play reading; at the same time the Chase’s coachman has a rendezvous with the maid.

This piece had its Australian premiere at the Melbourne Bijou at Easter 1903 with seasons in Adelaide and Brisbane to follow. The play proved something of a riot, especially the shenanigans of the carriage-house scene. The cast for the first Sydney production included George Willoughby as Tom Genowin, Roxy Barton as Dorothy Mayland, Tom Cannam as Mr. Hunter-Chase, Miss Roland Watts-Phillips as Mrs. Hunter-Chase, Edwin Lester as William Hawley (the coachman) and Mabel Hardinge-Maltby as Linda Kurtz (the maid). In their review, the Sydney Morning Herald echoed the newspapers in the other capitals when it said: ‘Mistakes Will Happen proved to be marked success. [The] authors have certainly introduced almost the maximum of hilarity into the play, and have furnished a strong tonic for elevating depressed spirits and overcoming the most pronounced fit of the blues. The dialogue is racy, the incidents developed in the course of the plot are beyond even the suspicion of coarseness, and the funny situations follow so rapidly that the audience presents a fine illustration of “laughter holding both its sides”.’1 It played util the end of Willoughby and Geach’s all-too-short season on 9 October.

The theatre remained dark for the next few nights pending Mary Fitzmaurice Gill’s season. A young Australian actress who had played leading roles with the companies of Bland Holt and William Anderson was returning to Sydney following an extended New Zealand tour to perform with her own company. Her initial offering, Man to Man on 17 October, was being presented by arrangement with George Rignold. A drama of convict life, the play included numerous sensational scenic effects including a railway collision, the Portland Prison, and an escape during a fog. Miss Fitzmaurice Gill’s leading man was Albert Gran, who had made his Australian debut as Lord Jeffreys in Nellie Stewart’s production of Sweet Nell of Old Drury the previous year.

Plays that followed included The French Spy (24 October), The Bank of England (7 November), The Prodigal Parson (21 November), finishing with East Lynne, for one night only on 27 November.

The next attraction, which opened on 28 November, was Miss Cleopatra, a farce in three acts, adapted from the French by Arthur Shirley, with Australian-born actress-vocalist Maud Lita, in the title role. This play had first been performed in London in 1891 under the title Cleopatra, when a single performance was given at the Shaftesbury Theatre at a benefit matinee for W.H. Griffiths, with Maud Milton as Cleopatra. As the leading character is a prima donna, Maud Lita (an operatic contralto) introduced a number of songs which were performed with great verve, but unfortunately, despite her many accomplishments, houses were poor, and the season ended on 11 December.

Another period of closure followed.

At Christmas, Albert Gran returned, this time supported by members of The Conservatoire. Two double bills were presented: Pygmalion and Galatea and Comedy and Tragedy (23 December) and The Moth and the Candle and Comedy and Tragedy (24 December). Pygmalion and Galatea and Comedy and Tragedy were both early non-musical plays by W.S. Gilbert, while The Moth and the Candle was Gran’s own adaptation of Ouida’s novel Moths.

New Zealand theatrical manager George Stephenson’s American Musical Comedy Company opened on Boxing Night, Saturday, 26 December 1903, with American vaudevillians Charles J. Stine and Olive Evans making their first appearances in Sydney.

The opening gambit, Mama’s New Husband, a three-act farce by Edwin Barber, revolved around the newly re-married Mrs. Pearly Brood (Margaret Marshall), who has concealed from her much younger husband, Henry Brood (Charles J. Stine), that she has a 17-year-old daughter—and when that daughter Maimie Dimler (Olive Evans) arrives home unexpectedly from boarding school, her mother persuades her to dress as a young girl in spite of numerous suitors hovering about—a premise reminiscent of Pinero’s 1886 farce The Magistrate, but the similarity ended there. During the action of the play twenty musical numbers were introduced, along with ballets and dancing. This piece had its first performance in America in September 1901 and shortly after Stine and Evans acquired the rights to the play and took it on tour. Having commenced their current tour in New Zealand and Tasmania, this piece had been given its Australasian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland, on 6 August 1903.

A month later, Saturday, 30 January 1904, the same company performed Brown’s in Town, a three-act comedy by Mark E. Swan. Resembling a Broadhurst farce (What Happened to Jones, etc.), this play dealt with a mismanaged elopement whereby a young couple lead their parents on a merry chase—and like The Wrong Mr. Wright, the title character does not exist. Similar to Mama’s New Husband, songs and dances were dotted throughout, including a burlesque on the Florodora Sextette (‘Tell Me, Dusky Maiden’)—and what the play lacked in plot, it made up for in movement. According to the publicity it was toured by ten companies in America during 1902—and one run by Frank Hennessy, cleared over £30,000.2 It seems this play was first performed in December 1898 in Minnesota, with Edward S. Abeles as Dick Preston, Kathryn Osterman as Letty, and James O. Barrows as the father-in-law Abel Preston. It reached New York in February 1899 and played at the Bijou Theatre for a fortnight with the same cast. According to the reviews J.J. Rosenthal, the manager of the Bijou, didn’t think much of the play and pulled the plug after a fortnight.3 It fared much better in the provinces.

Brown’s in Town had it Australasian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Auckland, 12 August 1903, with Charles Stine as Abel Preston and Olive Evans as Letty Leonard, the same roles they played in the Sydney production. The farce seemed to please Sydneysiders and held the stage at the Palace for four weeks. The season closed with a short revival of Mama’s New Husband from 24 to 26 February 1904.

On 27 and 29 February, The Players presented Captain Swift by Charles Haddon Chambers; returning on 30 and 31 March with Tom, Dick and Harry. And on 28 March, for one night only, Albert Gran, supported by Linda Raymond, presented Mary Queen of Scots.

Pending the re-appearance of the Willoughby and Geach combination for the Easter season, the Palace was given a lick of paint and refreshed. The company’s latest offering was the American farce A Stranger in a Strange Land by Sydney Wilmer and Walter Vincent. According to the publicity this piece had enjoyed huge success in London, New York and on the Continent. It had its Australian premiere on 5 March at the Melbourne Princess where it played to packed houses for three weeks. With George Willoughby as Jack Thorndyke, the fun of the piece lay in the hero’s claims to his sweetheart that he is an adventurous backwoodsman. During the play’s two week run, hundreds of people were reportedly turned from the doors. Postcards featuring scenes from the play were available for purchase. The final few nights of the season saw a revival of What Happened to Jones.

On Saturday, 23 April 1904, the Perman troupe arrived with the pantomime Little Red Riding Hood. Written by W.J. Lincoln, with original music by C.G. McIntosh, it was an entirely Australian creation, with an Australian setting and a finale featuring a patriotic tableau with each of the Australian states attired in glittering costumes. First performed in Melbourne at Christmas 1903, it had toured to Adelaide, Ballarat, Geelong and Brisbane prior to its Sydney opening. The principal characters were played by Harry Shine (Dame Trot), Bella Perman (Red Riding Hood), Maud B. Perman (Boy Blue) and Edith Maitland (Marjorie Daw). Two editions of the pantomime were given prior to its closing three weeks later on 13 May.

Tom Nawn’s Polite Vaudeville Company made their first appearance in Australia on 14 May 1904 under the direction of J.G. Rial (previously associated with the World’s Entertainers). This was Tom Nawn’s second visit to Australia. In 1902 he and his wife, Hettie Nawn, had been on the bill at Rickards’ Tivoli, when their playlet One Touch of Nature was performed in Australia for the first time. This same piece was included on the bill at the Palace, along with a line-up of American vaudeville acts including Pete Baker (America’s premier monologue entertainer and German dialect comedian), The Musical Johnstons (for years the Xylophone novelty with Sousa’s band), Dorothy Drew (singing comedienne in a repertoire of Negro melodies), The Tossing Austens (comedy juggling and eccentric pantomime specialty), Katherine Dahl (the brilliant lyric artiste in a repertoire of ballads), Hiawatha Troubadours (introducing original American Indians songs and legends) and Mirrored Melody (producing effects which greatly enhance the enjoyment of descriptive songs). Also on the program was Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope showing one of his most recent films, the $12,000 The American Train Robbery. Running 11 minutes, this film was directed by Edwin S. Porter and starred Justus D. Barnes as the head bandit. Today it is considered one of the earliest American narrative films, introducing many new cinematic techniques including double exposure, cross cutting, tracking shots and location shooting.4

During the season the bill changed to include some new performers and sketches. On 28 May, for example, the sketch Shipmates was performed for the first time; on 6 June Pat and the Genii, a comedietta seen during Tom Nawn’s 1902 visit was revived; and on 18 June, the new three-act feature play The Mishaps of Mr. Dooley, written by American journalist Finley Peter Dunne and based on his ‘Mr Dooley’ newspaper columns was performed for the first time. Dooley was a fictional Irish bartender whose voice Dunne used to comment on national affairs.5

Sadly for Nawn, audience numbers at the Palace declined due to the ‘plethora of entertainment’ elsewhere, and the season came to an abrupt end on 30 June. By the following Monday, Tom Nawn was ‘ploughing his way to the land of Stars and Stripes’.6 Fortunately for many members of his company, they were offered positions at Harry Rickards’ Tivoli Theatre.

The Palace was once again dark, but only for a short time. Another company of Americans was on its way.

Meanwhile, The Players returned with the double bill of My Little Girl and Charley’s Aunt on the 7 and 8 July; and on the 13 and 14th of the month Frau Elsa Buhlow presented A.W. Pinero’s The Ironmaster in aid of the Kindergarten Union & German Benevolent Society.

The next big attraction was the American Travesty Stars, a company of 38 performers, with Harry James as musical director and W.S. Combs as general manager. This company was modelled on the Weber and Fields company in New York. Joseph M. Weber and Lew M. Fields were a highly successful pair of ‘Dutch comics’, so successful that in 1896 they opened their own theatre on Broadway, the Weber and Fields Music Hall. There they produced a series of vaudeville burlesques: The Geezer (1896), Pousse Café (1897), Hurley Burley (1898), Whirl-I-Gig (1901), Fiddle-Dee-Dee (1900), Hoity Toity (1901), Twirly Whirly (1902) and Whoop-Dee-Doo (1903); each show crafted to showcase their particular brand of knock-about comedy.

The company in Australia, headed by Clarence Kolb and Max Dill, had been granted permission to present the Weber and Fields’ repertoire, and had been doing so on the West Coast of America since 1901. The other principals in the company were Barney Bernard, a Jewish dialect comedian, who played the roles created by David Warfield on Broadway; Maude Amber and Winfield Blake, the leading lady and leading man, who doubled for Lillian Russell and DeWolf Hopper; and Lillie Sutherland, the soubrette, who performed Fay Templeton’s roles.

The company’s first offering in Australia was Fiddle-Dee-Dee which opened on Saturday, 16 July 1904. Written by Edgar Smith, with music by John Stromberg, it had originally been performed on Broadway in September 1900, with Joe Weber as Michael Krautknuckle, Lew Fields as Rudolf Bungstarter, DeWolf Hopper as Hoffman Barr, David Warfield as Shadrach Leschinski, and Lillian Russell as Mrs. Walford Meadowbrook.

Described as ‘A Potpourri of Dramatic “fol de roll” in Three Exhibits’, Fiddle-Dee-Dee was greeted by an overflowing house. With no plot to speak of, audiences were promised an entertainment abounding with original musical numbers, a large chorus of shapely girls, witty dialogue delivered with kaleidoscopic rapidity, all presented with the dash and vim of a first-rate American company ‘The scenery, costumes and the paraphernalia have never been excelled for originality, and such a large company of superb comedians who tear the English language into shreds and reconstruct it in a manner that is extremely funny. They keep their audiences in a continual paroxysm of laughter during the time given up to their quaint sayings, happy repartee and dialogue work.’7

The piece lived up to the hype and audiences were not disappointed. It even included a travesty of the Florodora Sextette.

Fiddle-Dee-Dee played until 12 August. The next offering was Hoity Toity, described on the bills as ‘A Giddy Little Skit on Things Dramatic and Otherwise in Two Selections’, it was another mirth-filled burlesque extravaganza by Smith and Stromberg. First performed in New York in September 1901, this piece had a slight plot to tie together its ‘olio portion’. It involved a man who takes his daughters to Monte Carlo to find rich husbands for them. Instead they meet ‘sauerkraut’ millionaires and decide to start a bank, swapping the delicatessen counter for a teller’s bench. ‘Raising the money’ became one of Weber and Fields’ most famous sketches. When a customer arrives at the bank, Weber (Kolb) asks ‘Put in or take out?’ Of course everyone takes out until the bank is hopelessly broke.

The company’s final offering was the double-bill of Whirl-I-Gig and Pousse Café which opened on 17 September 1904. Described respectively as a ‘dramatic impossibility’ and a ‘conundrum’. In the first piece Dill played the inventor of a machine for ‘throwing living pictures on the naked air’, while Kolb was an  architect who had designed a gaol ‘with all the comforts of home’. In the second piece, Barney Bernard is the inventor of a mechanical doll, La Pooh Pooh (an obvious parody of La Poupee, the comic opera by Audran), with Kolb and Dill as his two backers. These two short works provided a fitting end to a highly popular season which closed on 6 October 1904.

With the departure of the Travesty Company, things quietened down a bit. The Players returned for two nights with J.M. Barrie’s The Professor’s Love Story on 7 and 8 October. On the 11th and 12th of the month, Frau Elsa Buhrow made her re-appearance in Cyprienne (a translation of Sardou’s Divorcons) in aid of the Ashfield Infants’ Home. (Frau Buhrow had presented the same piece at the Palace back in September 1901.) And on 13th and 14th, The Players presented Haddon Chambers’ The Idler. Another long period of darkness descended on the theatre, punctuated by a production of the comic opera Giroffle-Giroffla on 14 November, performed by the Railway and Tramway Musical Society.

Finally, on Saturday, 10 December 1904, the American Travesty Company made a welcome return, bringing with them a weekly change program. The line-up remained the same with the exception of the Maude Amber and Winfield James who had been replaced by Celia Mavis and Edwin Lester. Hoity Toity was the first of the revivals, followed by Fiddle-Dee-Dee on 17 December, and Whirl-I-Gig and Pousse Café on 24 December.

The season ended on 30 December—and the little theatre fell dark once more—pending the arrival of William Anderson’s Dramatic Company on 22 April 1905.

In a curious footnote, it seems that despite the full house and patrons being turned away from the door, the tour was not a financial success for the American Travesty Company. In February 1905, an article appeared in Sydney’s Sunday Sun headed: AMERICAN TRAVESTY STARS: Back in ’Frisco. “THICK-HEADED AUDITORS IN THE ANTIPODES!”. According to the report members of the company felt that much of their material was lost on Australian audiences who didn’t understand American humour and syntax. And as for any financial reward, it seems the manager, Henry James, was the only one who profited from the tour. He was said to have returned to the US sporting a diamond pin. The article also mentioned the conspicuous absence of Maude Amber and Winfield Blake during the return season at the Palace. She had a falling out with James and he was suing her for breach of contract.8 Another article that appeared in The Critic around the same time confirmed that the company had been asked to play the final three weeks at the Palace without pay—and that Miss Amber and Mr. Blake had refused to act and had sued James for damages.9

 

To be continued

 

Endnotes

1. Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September 1903, p.4

2. Auckland Star, 11 August 1903, p.3

3. New York Times, 28 February 1899, p.7

4. See https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/edwin-s-porter-the-great-train-robbery-1903/

5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Dooley

6. Truth, 3 July 1904, p.1

7. Sydney Star, 13 July 1904, p.7

8. Sunday Sun, 26 February 1905, p.5

9. The Critic, 22 February 1905, p.23

References

Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 18691914, Oxford University Press, 1994

Felix Isman, Weber and Fields, their tribulations, triumphs and their associates, Boni and Liveright, 1924

Anthony Slide, The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, University of Mississippi, 2012

Newspapers

Auckland Star, The Australian Star (Sydney), The Critic (Adelaide), The New York Clipper, The New York Times, The New Zealand Mail, Punch (Melbourne), The Sydney Morning Herald, Truth (Sydney)

Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection, https://idnc.library.illinois.edu/

Papers Past, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

Trove, https://trove.nla.gov.au/

Pictures

J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University of Washington Libraries, https://content.lib.washington.edu/sayreweb/index.html

Library of Congress, Washington, DC., https://www.loc.gov/

New York Public Library, New York, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Rob Morrison, Les Tod

Published in Stage by stage

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In Part 5 of the Palace Theatre story exploring the lows and highs of the little theatre’s fortunes, ELISABETH KUMM finds 1903 to be a highly successful year, with the production of some of the biggest hits of Broadway and the West End.

J.C. williamson took over the lease of the Palace Theatre in December 1902, but due to the success of his Royal Comic Opera Company in Melbourne he decided not to open in Sydney until Boxing Day night.

In the meantime, on the afternoon of Monday, 22 December 1902, Williamson made the Palace available to Dolly Castles, a young Melbourne singer who was making her professional debut in Sydney ‘before a few professional musicians and connoisseurs’. Sixteen-year-old Dolly was a younger sister of the celebrated soprano Amy Castles. The previous week, on 16 December, the two sisters had participated in the Grand Festival of Sacred Music at St Mary’s Cathedral. In addition to singing principal roles in Graun’s Te Deum, Dolly also sang ‘Viae Sion lugent’ from Gounod’s Gallia. For her recital at the Palace Theatre, she chose the ‘Jerusalem’ aria from Gallia and Tosti’s ‘Good-bye’. Described as having ‘a resonant soprano of firm, pure quality’, Williamson championed the young singer and arranged for her to appear in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane prior to her departure for Paris to study under M. Bouhy.1

On Friday, 26 December, the Royal Comic Opera Company opened at the Palace in a revival of Dorothy, first seen in Australia in 1887 with Leonora Braham in the title role. With this revival Florence Young was playing Dorothy for the first time in Sydney, with Celia Ghiloni as Lydia, and Maud Chetwynd as Phyllis. Two new leading men, Reginald Roberts and Harold Thorley, were Geoffrey Wilder and Harry Sherwood respectively, with George Lauri reprising his old role of Lurcher. The conductor was Leon Caron, with scenery by George Gordon. Dorothy was performed until 9 January 1903.

The following evening Planquette’s comic opera Paul Jones was revived with Florence Young in the title role, supported by Reginald Roberts as Rufino de Martinez, Hugh Ward as Don Trocadero, George Lauri as Bouillabaisse, Maud Chetwynd as Chopinette, Celia Ghiloni as Malaguena, and Carrie Moore as Yvonne. As the Sydney Morning Herald reminded audiences, ‘Paul Jones is probably one of the most successful of comic operas ever produced in this country, and the revival will bring pleasant memories to playgoers of 10 or 12 years ago’ when Marian Burton created the ‘trouser’ role of Paul Jones in Australia.2

Overflowing audiences greeted the Royal Comic Opera Company at every performance during their all-too-short season. Paul Jones was withdrawn after only fourteen performances to make way for farewell productions of The Mikado (24–30 January), Robin Hood (2–6 February), and The Geisha (7–20 February).

On 21 February 1903 the Palace Theatre erupted with laughter when George Broadhurst’s The Wrong Mr. Wright was produced in Sydney for the first time. It was presented by George Willoughby and Edwin Geach, who had just concluded a successful ten month tour of Australia and New Zealand. According to newspaper reports, Willioughby and Geach had taken over Charles Arnold’s company and had been so successful that their ‘receipts even exceeded those of Mr. Charles Arnold’s phenomenal tour with What Happened to Jones, a record that would make many managers envious’.3

Like Broadhurst’s other farcical comedies, The Wrong Mr. Wright, as the title suggests revolves around mistaken identity, whereby a stingy businessman, after being frauded of $5000 by a trusted employee, engages detectives to capture the thief. He offers a reward, but when he hears that the culprit is at Old Point Comfort, he decides to go to the resort in disguise and capture the criminal himself, thereby saving the reward. He assumes the name of Mr. Wright, which also happens to be the alias of the thief. At the resort, completely out of character, he falls head over heels for a young lady, and starts spending money recklessly in an attempt to impress her. It so happens that the lady is a detective eager to earn the reward, and she assumes that he is the thief.

Wrong Mr Wright Flashlight Act 3Scene from Act 3 of The Wrong Mr. Wright, 1902

The Wrong Mr. Wright had first been performed in Boston in 1896, with Roland Reed and Isadore Rush in the leading roles. They played a month at the Bijou Theatre in New York from 6 September 1897, prior to taking it on tour throughout the USA along with other Broadhurst comedies. When it was first performed at the Strand Theatre in London in 1897 with Thomas A. Wise and Constance Collier in the leads, it ran for almost a year.

At the Palace Theatre, The Wrong Mr. Wright played for a month. The lead roles were performed by George Willoughby as Singleton Sites, with Roxy Barton as Henrietta Oliver, closing on 20 March 1903.

The following evening, On and Off was performed for the first time in Sydney. This was a French farce adapted by an unnamed hand (possibly Catherine Riley) from Le contrôleur des wagon-lits by Alexandre Bisson. The story defies summary but it concerns an unhappy husband, George Godfray, who attempts to escape the clutches of his overbearing parents-in-law by pretending to be an inspector of railway sleeping cars.

The play was considered a comedy hit in New York, running for three months at the Madison Square Theatre during 1898/1899, with E.M. Holland as Godfray, Amelia Bingham as Madeline (his wife), Maggie Holloway Fisher as Mme Brumaire (the mother-in-law), and Katharine Florence as Rose Martel (the other woman). The play was even more successful in London at the Vaudeville Theatre where it played for seven months from December 1898, with George Giddens, Elliott Page, Elsie Chester and Lucie Milner in the leads.

In Sydney, it was performed three weeks, from 21 March to 9 April 1903, with George Willoughby as the down trodden husband, supported by Roxy Barton, Roland Watts-Phillips and Ethel Appleton.

On Saturday, 28 March 1903, Willoughby and Geach hosted a Grand Combination Charity Matinee in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Drought Fund which saw The Players supported by Nellie Stewart and members of the Willoughby and Geach Company in The Ironmaster and The Grey Parrot.

With the final performance of On and Off on 9 April 1903, the Willoughby and Geach season came to a close.

Following the presentation of a Sacred Concert on 10 April for Easter, J.C. Williamson was once again lessee, opening a season of comedies with Are You a Mason?—for the first time in Australia. This comedy was adapted by Leo Ditrichstein from the German play Logen Bruder by Carl Laufs and Kurt Krantz.

Williamson’s New Comedy Company was a top notch one, with West End comedian George Gidden as Amos Bloodgood, the role he created when the play was first performed in England.

The fun begins when Frank Perry (played by Cecil Ward) promises his new wife (Ethel Knight Mollison) that while she is away on a visit he will become a Mason. However, during her absence, he goes out on the town and fails to fulfil his promise. On her return, rather than tell her the truth, he pretends that he has done what she has asked. When his in-laws arrive, he discovers that his father-in-law (Amos Bloodgood, played by George Giddens) is in exactly the same predicament. So when his wife’s unmarried sister starts courting a real Mason, the two pretend Masons are at risk of being exposed.

Are You a Mason? was first performed in New York at Wallack’s Theatre on 1 April 1901, with Thomas A. Wise as Amos Bloodgood, May Robson as Caroline Bloodgood, John C. Rice as Frank Perry, Esther Tittell as Eva Perry, and Leo Ditrichstein as George Fisher. This production ran for 32 performances. It was subsequently revived at the Garrick Theatre in August 1901 with a similar cast, where it ran for an additional month.

The London production, which opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 12 September 1901 (transferring to the Royalty Theatre on 31 March 1902), ran for a side-splitting seven months.

Night OutHotel scene from the London production of A Night Out, 1896, performed in Australia as Oh! What a Night! George Giddens as Joseph Pinglet is sixth from the right. Photo by Dover Street Studios, London. From The Tatler, 28 August 1907, p.185.

The Comedy Company’s next offering was Oh! What a Night! on 23 May 1903. Adapted from the French farce of Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallieres, it was described in the advertising as ‘one of the funniest, wittiest, cleverist, brightest, sauciest, quaintest comedies ever written’.4

Originally performed as L’Hôtel du Libre échange in Paris in 1894, the play had many outings on the English speaking stage. It was seen in New York as The Gay Parisians (1895) and in London as A Night Out (1896), the same title given to the 1920’s musical comedy version adapted by George Grossmith and Arthur Miller, with music by Willie Redstone. More recently it formed the basis of Peter Glenville’s comedy Hotel Paradiso (1956) and John Mortimer’s A Little Hotel On the Side (1984).

It is probable that Oh! What a Night! was actually A Night Out under a new title, with George Giddens reprising his original character of Joseph Pinglet. It played until the end of the Williamson comedy season on 5 June 1903.

The following evening, Saturday, 6 June 1903, saw the reappearance of Maggie Moore, Williamson’s former acting partner and ex-wife. Her opening piece was Struck Oil, the well-known comedy vehicle that she and Williamson performed when they made their Australian debuts in 1874. Maggie revived her ‘original, inimitable, and altogether remarkable impersonation’ of Lizzie Stofel, while Williamson’s old role of John Stofel, the Dutch shoemaker, was now played by John F. Ford.5

Struck Oil played for a fortnight. On Saturday, 20 June 1903, Maggie introduced a brand-new character to Sydney audiences: The Widow From Japan, a farcical comedy by Charles J. Campbell and Ralph M. Skinner. Audiences were promised:

Those who desire to be convulsed with hearty laughter and to be charmed with interesting episodes should not miss seeing this great Comedy Drama, which is one of those productions wherein Miss MOORE’s versatile powers find their fullest scope. In the title role she has a character that could not be more original had it been created for her.6

With these Australian performances, it seems that this play was being performed for the first time. Maggie had purchased the Australian rights for this and other new pieces while visiting America in 1902.

The Widow From Japan played for one week. It was followed by Way Down South; or, A Negro Slave’s Devotion (27 June–3 July 1903) and Killarney (4–10 July 1903). In Way Down South, Maggie ‘blacked up’ to play a faithful servant, Aunt Miranda, ‘her Great Negro Impersonation’. Described as a domestic comedy drama in five acts by P.B. Carter, this piece was being performed in Sydney for the first time. ‘New songs’ were performed as well as ‘dances, glees, and Negro Specialties’, including the ‘cake walk’.7

Maggie’s final offering was Killarney, a ‘romantic, and picturesque Irish drama in four acts’ by an unnamed author, in which she played the Irish colleen Kathleen O’Donnell, affording her the opportunity to sing several appropriate songs including ‘Ireland, I Love You’ and ‘Killarney’.8

With the departure of Maggie Moore, J.C. Williamson once again took over the direction of the theatre, introducing Daniel Frawley and his company of American players. Frawley’s troupe comprised some 20 artists, including the ‘brilliant young actress’ Mary Van Buren. The company had been founded in 1899 and had been touring the USA, Asia, India and New Zealand, prior to making their Australia debut at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on 30 May 1903. They brought with them a vast repertoire of plays, having acquired the touring rights to high profile Broadway and West End successes including Arizona (1899) by Augustus Thomas, Madame Sans Gene (1895) by Victorien Sardou, and Secret Service (1893) by William Gillette.

Daniel Frawley and company commenced their six-week Sydney season on Saturday, 11 July 1903. Their opening gambit was the much anticipated Arizona, a play by Augustus Thomas. From its first performance in America, this play captured the popular imagination; a story teaming with ‘ranchmen, cowboys, Mexicans, Chinamen and other figures of life in the territory’.9 The hero of the play is the handsome Lieutenant Denton of the 11th Cavalry who woos one of the daughters of Henry Canby, the sun-weathered ranch-owner, and saves the reputation of the other. Theodore Roberts created the role of Henry Canby when the play premiered at the Grand Opera House in Chicago in June 1899. After an unprecedented season of three months, the play toured around America for a year. When it eventually reached New York in September 1900, it notched up a further 140 performances at the Herald Square Theatre. In February 1902, Roberts appeared in the first London production at the Adelphi Theatre (transferring to the Princess’s in April 1902), where it ran for 119 performances.

This piece had received its Australian premiere at the Princess’s Theatre in Melbourne the previous month, with Daniel Frawley as Lieutenant Denton, Jeffrey Williams as Henry Canby, Mary Van Buren as Estrella, and Eva Dennison as Bonita.

Due to the limited number of nights scheduled for the Sydney season, a weekly change program was introduced beginning with Madame Sans Gene (1–7 August 1903). Victorien Sardou’s play, first performed in Paris in 1894 with Madame Rejane in the title role, focuses on Napoleon’s relationship with a former laundress, Catherine Hubscher, aka Madame Sans Gene. This play first appeared on the English stage in a translation by J. Comyn’s Carr in 1895 with Ellen Terry and Henry Irving. The same year, in America, Henry Charles Meltzer adapted the play for Kathryn Kidder and Augustus Cook. In 1899 Frawley secured the Pacific Coast rights to the Meltzer version and on 3 September 1899 played Napoleon for the first time in at the Burbank Theatre, Los Angeles, supported by Mary Van Buren.

The company’s next offering was In Paradise (8–14 August 1903), adapted by B.B. Valentine from Les Paradis, a farcical comedy by Messrs Billhaud, Henequin and Carré. On its first Australian presentation in Sydney, it featured Daniel Frawley as Raphael Delacroix, an artist, with Mary Van Buren as Claire Taupin, a Modiste, and Harrington Reynolds as Pico, a lion tamer. Enough said.

The following week saw a return to form with the Australian premiere of Brother Officers (15–21 August 1903), a military comedy-drama by Leo Trevor. Charting the trials and tribulations of a successful army man from a low class family, this piece enjoyed considerable success at the Garrick Theatre in London in 1899 with Arthur Bourchier as Lieutenant John Hinds VC and Violet Vanbrugh as The Baroness Roydell. When the play was given its American premiere in San Francisco (7 August 1899) and New York (16 January 1900), the leads were played by Henry Miller (William Faversham in New York) and Margaret Anglin, the roles now played by Daniel Frawley and Mary Van Buren.

Another Australian premiere followed with the 1893 drama The Girl I Left Behind Me (22–28 Aug 1903) by Franklin Fyles and David Belasco. Set on a small army base in Montana, against a backdrop of tension between the army and the local Indian tribe, the play focussed on the love story between Lieutenant Edgar Hawkesmore and Kate Kennion, the general’s daughter. Running for over 200 performances at the Empire Theatre, New York, in 1893, with Frank Mordaunt and Sidney Armstrong as the lovers, the play went on to achieve a similar success at London’s Adelphi Theatre in 1895 with William Terriss and Jessie Millward. For the Sydney production Daniel Frawley and Mary Van Buren played Edgar and Kate.

The penultimate offering was a revival of the Civil War spy drama Secret Service (29 August–4 September 1903), with Daniel Frawley as Lewis Dumont (alias Captain Thorne), a Union spy who infiltrates the ranks of the Confederate army and falls in love with Edith Varney (Mary Van Buren), the  daughter of a Confederate general. This play created a sensation on its first production, making an instant celebrity of actor-playwright William Gillette, who created the role of Dumont when the play was first performed in New York in October 1896. The drama enjoyed huge success throughout the USA and England. The first Australia production in August 1899 had featured Thomas Kingston and Henrietta Watson in the principal roles.

The final week of the Frawley season saw a revival of Augustus Thomas’ romantic American drama In Missoura (or In Missouri as it was titled here) (5–10 September 1903). This play had first been performed in Australia by Nat C. Goodwin and his company in 1896. Goodwin created the character of Jim Radburn, an unsophisticated but tender hearted Sherriff, when the play was first performed in America in 1893. As Radburn, Daniel Frawley played the role ‘with a quiet, convincing force that left little to be desired’, with Mary Van Buren as Kate Vernon, the object of his affections.11

The season terminated on Friday, 11 September 1903 with a revival of Arizona, also by Augustus Thomas.

 

To be continued

 

Endnotes

1. Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), 27 December 1902, p.28;  Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 10 January 1903, p.6

2. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1903, p.7

3. The Australian Star (Sydney), 30 January 1903, p.8

4. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 May 1903, p.2

5. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June 1903, p.2

6. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June 1903, p.2

7. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 June 1903, p.2

8. Advertisement, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 July 1903, p.2

9. The New York Clipper, 17 June 1899, p.304

10. Amy Arbogast, p.30

11. Sydney Morning Herald, 7 September 1903, p.3

References

Amy Arbogast, ‘Rural life with urban strife’, Performing the Progressive Era: immigration, urban life, and nationalism on stage, edited by Max Shulman & J. Chris Westgate, University of Iowa Press, 2019, pp.17-34

Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A chronicle of comedy and drama, 18691914, Oxford University Press, 1994

William W. Crawley (ed.). Australasian Stage Annual: an annual devoted to the interests of the theatrical and musical professions, J.J. Miller, Melbourne, 1902-1905

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 18901899, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

J.P. Wearing, The London Stage: A Calendar of productions, performers, and personnel, 1900-1909, 2nd edn, Rowman & Littlefield, 2014

Newspapers

The Australian Star (Sydney), Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Freeman’s Journal (Sydney), The New York Clipper, The New York Times, The New Zealand Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Tatler (London)

Papers Past, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

Trove, https://trove.nla.gov.au/

Pictures

J. Willis Sayre Collection of Theatrical Photographs, University of Washington Libraries, https://content.lib.washington.edu/sayreweb/index.html

With thanks to

John S. Clark, Judy Leech, Les Tod

Published in Stage by stage