Tuesday, 01 March 2022

Thus Far: The story of my life (Part 8)

Written by Madge Elliott
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Following their successful ‘come-back’ tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1932–33, Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard returned to London via America (where they spent time seeing the sights of Hollywood and New York.) Madge and Cyril soon settled back into the theatrical life of London, where they were welcomed back by their friends and attended many West End shows. In the previous chapter of her life story, Madge wrote that it was in London that she first met theatre composer, Jerome Kern and producer, Hassard Short, who were two of the most interesting people she had ever known. Now read on. Read Part 1» | Read Part 2» | Read Part 3» | Read Part 4» | Read Part 5» | Read Part 6» Read Part 7»

Chapter 8

Both Mr. Jerome Kern and Mr. Hassard Short at all our meetings displayed a keen interest in Australia, for many of the plays they were associated with were produced in the Commonwealth and New Zealand. [1]

Their praise of Sydney and Melbourne quite warmed my heart. There was a ‘third musketeer’ in Oscar Hammerstein, but he was so busy with his Drury Lane production of Three Sisters that I met him on only one occasion. His wife is an Australian—formerly Dorothy Blanchard. [2]

What a small world it is. Mr. Leslie Henson gave us a box for the 200th performance of Nice Goings On … And when we finished our last season in Melbourne at the King's Theatre this was the musical comedy which followed us in. [3]

About this time Cyril began to flit about the Continent looking at new plays.  He flew to Berlin and saw Katz Im Sack. [4] The next night he was in Copenhagen watching the same play done in quite a different way. However, he came to the conclusion that ‘Katz’ was not suitable for ‘The Good Companions’; but he had grand time making up his mind.

Back in London again Cyril and I saw the first night of Three Sisters. [5] And who do you think our companion was? None other than Dulcie Davenport.

lt was a wonderful night, and among the audience were Max Gordon, the American producer, John Loder, Douglas Fairbanks, Elizabeth Allen, Elsa Lanchester, Gertie Millar, Fred. Astaire, and Tallulah Bankhead. And after the show Mr. Nevin Tait took us along to the Savoy grill, where we met most of the stage celebrities.

That was a gay and bright time in London. But all good things come to an end.

Without warning, and in the midst of our revelry, came an offer for us to return to Australia. Hurrah! Once again we began to cogitate and consider, and long discussions followed. Time, however, was an important factor on this occasion; if we were going to accept the Firm’s offer we would have to be up and doing … And we did accept.

Then the rush began. There was a frenzied poring over steamship routes, air lines, and much figuring, all with a view to the speediest transport to Sydney.

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At last we decided on the American route. Impressions of the trip home are very hazy even at this recent date … The Atlantic … across America … over the Pacific. [6] What a rush. And all the time the winds were whispering, ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry.’ There was more exciting bustle when we arrived in Sydney for we were wanted immediately in The Gay Divorce. There followed visits to the dressmaker’s; hand-shaking, and teaing with friends, and a round of calls in connection with the production. And there were, of course, rehearsals and long hours of dancing.

So The Gay Divorce went on. [7] Followed more weeks of rehearsal for Blue Mountain Melody … more new lines; more new routines. Then to Melbourne, where we opened in this piece on November 3 of last year. [8] The season ran until December 22, when J.C. Williamson Ltd. ‘presented Madge Elliott and Cyril Rltchard in a new musical comedy, “Roberta,” the entire production, including ballets and dances produced by Cyril Rltchard.’ [9] … And so into 1935. Our revival of High Jinks proved highly successful in Melbourne, [10] and as these lines are being written, we are in readiness to open in Sydney with Roberta.

In one’s life story I suppose it is necessary to set down certain findings which have come through experience. There is, I grant you, a glamour about the stage, but when you have been back-stage a few weeks all that goes. So many boys and girls go into the theatre with success as the goal, with ideas of wealth and all sorts of things that go with being an actor or an actress. There are few who get these rewards, and if this is your only aim you are doomed to disappointment. Like every other art or craft, success on the stage depends on ability and hard work. The glamour and the bright lights quickly fade. I know myself the joy of going home after a rehearsal and working out, all by myself, some difficult piece of work, and my reward came when the audience approved. I have found that in the theatre one must never relax study. One must never relax their dally technique any more than if they were a pianist or a 'cello player.

Acting is an art, dancing is an art, and the theatre is an excellent place to express yourself if you have anything to say.  Earning a living is, of course, important, and success is part of the pleasure you get in life. But I have been working in a medium which I love, oh, so much; and the joy and happiness it has brought me I consider my best payment. In the theatre and its people is found also a great unselfishness. The players' work is shared by thousands of people, and behind the mask of grease paint and make-believe there is joy in the thought of every actor and actress that they are lightening for an hour or two some of the burdens of the work-a-day world. ‘Thus Far’ in the theatre for me has been all joy—the joy of giving and receiving; the joy of work; the joy of travel, and the joy of companionship. And I repeat, ‘I love it all.’

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Ahead of me are many more years of work in the theatre. When I selected ‘Thus Far’ as the title of my life story I felt it expressed the situation very aptly. Thus far have I travelled, and there is still a pleasant road stretching into the distance. 

With me on the journey will be the most wonderful friend a woman ever had—my good companion Cyril. Often I have been asked how our romance began. Well, like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin, it ‘just grew.’  Cyril sometimes tells me of the long, cold nights when he sat in the gallery of theatres watching me from afar as proof of his fidelity and devotedness. But I do not need these assurances. In our business association I felt the real strength of his friendship; and that this should develop into something more seems to me as natural as night following day … So when our present Sydney season ends we will be married.  Neither of us want a ‘big’ wedding, and we should have been perfectly content with just a family affair. But our friends are legion, and they insist upon throwing confetti and lucky horseshoes in our direction. … And our honeymoon will be spent in Honolulu. [11]

After that, who knows? Our philosophy has always been ‘Do not look too far ahead into the future,’ and neither of us likes to feel that we are chained to any particular course of action,

Mr. Max Gordon, the New York producer, is interested in us, and he will be on our visiting list In New York. He may have something to suit us.  If not, it is heigh-ho for London again, where Leslie Henson and Laddie Cliff will be waiting. They are very good friends of ours.

J.C. Williamson, too, are contemplating theatrical presentations in London; [12] and the studios of Elstree are beckoning Cyril. So what of the future? … Who knows?

Sufficient that we have travelled ‘Thus Far.’

(The End.)

Published in the Sydney Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, 3 April 1935, p.9,  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/246694409 ; The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.), Saturday, 13 April 1935, p.16,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182043320 and The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), Wednesday, 7 August 1935, p.3,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30099503

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Endnotes

Compiled by Robert Morrison

  1. Jerome Kern musicals produced in Australia and New Zealand (chiefly by J.C. Williamson Ltd.) included: Very Good Eddie (in 1917), Oh, Boy! (1918), Theodore & Co. (1919), Oh Lady! Lady! (1921), Sally (1923), The Cabaret Girl (1923), Good Morning, Dearie (1924), Leave it to Jane (1925), Sunny (1927, originally produced by Empire Theatres Ltd.), Show Boat (1929), Music in the Air (1933) and Roberta (1934) – the most number of productions by an American composer staged in Australasia in the 20th Century.
  1. Dorothy Marian Kiaora Blanchard was born in Launceston, Tasmania to a Scottish mother, Marion, and an English father, Henry James Blanchard, on 9 June 1899. The family soon moved to the bayside Melbourne suburb of Williamstown, where her sea captain father worked for the Port Phillip pilot service and Dorothy was brought up with four sisters, two half-brothers and a half-sister. After attending the Melbourne Church of England Girls’ Grammar School in South Yarra, Dorothy was married at the age of 17 to William Thomas Meikle, a lieutenant in the AIF, at Queen’s College, Carlton in July, 1916, but was subsequently granted a divorce on the grounds of desertion in April, 1923 (after he failed to return to her at the end of his war service in Europe.) In July, 1922 Dorothy made her professional stage debut as an ‘extra’, playing a mannequin in My Lady’s Dress at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne with Emilie Polini’s company for JCW Ltd., and a month later won third prize in The Herald newspaper’s Victoria Beauty Quest. Later that year Dorothy travelled to London, where she commenced a modelling career, performed with Robert Courtney’s theatrical company and also appeared in several silent films for director, Graham Cutts, including Woman to Woman and The White Shadow starring Betty Compson. Venturing to New York, she soon gained employment as a showgirl in British impresario André Charlot’s Revue of 1924, in which she understudied Beatrice Lillie, who co-starred in the revue with Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan. Dorothy first met Oscar Hammerstein on-board the S.S. Olympic when travelling to London with her second husband, New York jeweller, Henry Jacobson in March 1927 and the pair, who had become attracted to each other, kept in touch, eventually marrying in Baltimore in May of 1929, after both had divorced their respective spouses (Oscar had married Myra Finn in New York in 1917.) Oscar Hammerstein first visited Melbourne with Dorothy and her two year-old daughter, Susan in March, 1930 to meet her parents (who had retired to ‘Sandhurst’ in Alma Rd., East St. Kilda) and the Blanchard family members. Dorothy and Oscar’s son James was born on 23 March 1931, named after Dorothy’s father (who had died two months earlier) and Oscar’s maternal grandfather. The Hammersteins revisited Australia in May, 1946 (when they also attended a performance of the season of Noel Coward one-act plays at the Theatre Royal in Sydney starring Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard) and in November, 1956 to attend the Melbourne Olympic Games. Dorothy made a brief appearance in Oscar and Sigmund Romberg’s Hollywood film musical Viennese Nights in 1930, worked at the Anzac Club in New York during the war years and also conducted an interior decoration studio in both Hollywood and New York from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. (She decorated Cyril Ritchard’s Manhattan apartment, which overlooked New York’s Central Park, in 1957.) Dorothy Hammerstein died on 3 August 1987 in New York City (having remained a widow since Oscar’s death on 23 August 1960.) As an avid collector of antiques, her collection of rare 18th century china was bequeathed to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
  1. Nice Goings On (music by Arthur Schwartz; lyrics by Douglas Furber and Frank Eyton; book by Douglas Furber) premiered at the Strand Theatre, London on 13 September 1933 and ran for 221 performances, closing on 24 March 1934. Produced by Leslie Henson. The cast included Robertson Hare, (Australian) Fred Conyngham, Leslie Henson, Richard Hearne, Madeline Gibson, Zelma O’Neal, Sydney Fairbrother, Marjorie Brooks and, amongst the ‘extras’, Googie Withers. J.C. Williamson Ltd. presented its Australian premiere at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney on 12 January 1935, produced by S. Albert Locke, with ballets arranged by Ruby Morriss. The play transferred to the Theatre Royal, Sydney (on 23 February) where it closed on 15 March. Its Melbourne season opened the following night at the King’s Theatre on 16 March 1935. The local cast included Gus Bluett, Charles Norman, Agnes Doyle, Don Nicol and Phil Smith.
  1. Katz Im Sack (‘Cat in the Sack’ analogous to the English phrase ‘pig in a poke’) began life as the Hungarian operetta Zsákbamacska (music by Mihály [aka Michael] Eisemann, book and lyrics by László Szilágyi) which premiered at the Pesti Theatre in Budapest on 25 November 1931 and played for over 250 performances. Following successful productions in Vienna, Berlin, Czechoslovakia (as Kočička v pytli) and Copenhagen (as Katten i sækken), it was adapted for the English stage by Dion Titheradge as Happy Week-End! and received its London premiere at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 30 May 1934, where it lasted for a mere 54 performances. Its farcical plot dealt with a pretty country girl who sets out to win the love of a sporting man about town. It was later made into a BBC-TV movie in 1949 which co-starred Carol Raye and Wallas Eaton.
  1. Three Sisters (music by Jerome Kern; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) received its London premiere at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 19 April 1934, ahead of a disappointing run of just 72 performances, closing on 9 June. The musical was produced by Oscar Hammerstein and the dances were by Ralph Reader. The cast included Charlotte Greenwood, Victoria Hopper and Adele Dixon (as the titular sisters) Stanley Holloway (as a song-writing policeman) and, amongst the male chorus, Australian tenor, Max Oldaker. The most enduring song from the score, “I Won’t Dance” was subsequently bought by RKO Pictures (at Fred Astaire’s suggestion) for interpolation into the 1935 film version of Roberta starring Irene Dunne, Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Randolph Scott.
  1. Passenger lists of the period note that Madge and Cyril departed Southampton on 11 June 1934 aboard the S.S. Europa and arrived in New York on 16 June. (A fellow passenger was Beatrice Lillie, travelling under her married name of Lady Beatrice Peel.) Whilst in New York, Madge and Cyril attended a performance of Roberta at the New Amsterdam Theatre, and subsequently acquired the Australasian performing rights on behalf of JCW Ltd. As the intended producer of the musical in Australia, Cyril also contracted Ethel Morrison (then in New York, having performed in a revival of Bitter Sweet at the 44th Street Theatre) to play the title role. Departing from Los Angeles, Madge and Cyril arrived in Sydney aboard the A.M.S. Mariposa on 16 July 1934. (Fellow passengers on the ship included Sir Charles and Lady Kingsford Smith.)
  1. The Sydney season of Gay Divorce opened at the Theatre Royal on 28 July and played through to 12 September 1934. (The production had earlier premiered at the King’s Theatre, Melbourne on 23 December 1933 starring Billy Milton and Mona Potts— substituting for British leading lady, Iris Kirkwhite, who had sprained her ankle two days before opening night—before Milton and Kirkwhite took it on tour to Adelaide, Perth, Kalgoorlie and Brisbane playing it in repertory with revivals of The Girl Friend and The Quaker Girl. Most of the original Australian cast members who had toured with Milton and Kirkwhite remained with the production for Madge and Cyril’s subsequent Sydney season.) In addition to crediting Charles A. Wenman as producer and Edward Royce, Jun. for the “dances, ballet and groupings” the Sydney programme also noted that ‘The dances by Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard by Fred Astaire, London.’

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‘GAY DIVORCE.’
An ‘Intimate’ Musical Comedy.

‘Gay Divorce’ which made its first appearance in Sydney on Saturday night at the Theatre Royal comes to Australia after long runs in London and New York. It is an example of the greater latitude in expression which public opinion allows nowadays on the stage abroad.

The author Dwight Taylor calls the play ‘an intimate musical comedy in two acts.’ It is intimate in the sense that it broaches topics which twenty years ago would not have been alluded to in polite mixed company much less publicised in the footlights glare. The play is a symptom of the social movements of the time. The healthiness or otherwise of those movements are for the moralist and not the dramatic critic to determine.

In justice to Mr. Taylor it must be said that he does not take his theme seriously for a moment nor is the audience intended to take it seriously. A young lady has come to an English seaside resort in order that her solicitor may gain evidence for an arranged divorce. A professional co-respondent has been engaged who is to stay the night in the young wife’s room. Then in the early hours of the morning detectives are supposed to break down the door and discover the compromising situation. But the plans go agley. The prospective divorcee mistakes the hero (an ardent but respectable young man) for the co-respondent and gives him the key of her room. After a great amount of gay dialogue during which double entendre crackles like machine-gun fire, it is decided that both men shall stay in the sitting room while Mrs. Green— as the wife has resourcefully re-named herself—retreats to her bedchamber. The morning comes, and finds them severally asleep. The husband comes also; but instead of being horrified at discovering his wife immured with two declared lovers he strikes consternation into the breasts of all present by forgiving her and urging her to come home.

The remoteness of all this from any criticism or reflection of real life is apparent in the character of the co-respondent which Mr. Gus Bluett played on Saturday night with supremely hilarious effect. In the past Mr. Bluett has been inclined to romp about on the stage and improvise with miscellaneous ‘gags.’ But in ‘Gay Divorce’ he clung resolutely to the essentials of the character he represented and on that account gave his humour greater relish and distinction. The co-respondent was a parody on Italian temperament as the English stage has known it. He burst into bits of Puccini opera at odd moment, made courtly bows to the ladles, which ill assorted with his queer attire— particularly the pyjamas and dressing gown with their horrifying unaesthetic floral patterns— and muddled his pronunciation in the most frantic way. It was a delightful piece of nonsense.

Concerning Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Madge Elliott there is little to say. The Sydney public is now familiar with their easy, graceful, elegant style, which has no sharp accents or surprises, but fits pleasantly into the general scheme of the most diverse musical play. ‘Gay Divorce” gives them opportunity for their usual interludes of dancing. According to Saturday night’s programme they are using the same dances in which Fred Astaire and Claire Luce made such a sensation in London. On the side of singing, there is not much for them to do. Cole Porter’s music is, in fact, distinctly thin. The only significant number he has produced is ‘Night and Day,’ and Mr. Ritchard threw away most of the effect in this by failing to emphasise its insistent accent. Miss Elliott reinforced the decorative quality she always gives her gestures and movement— a quality based on her thorough training in dance— by wearing some superlatively lovely clothes. The audience was so struck by the white evening gown in which she made her entrance in the second act that it burst into cordial applause.

Under the direction of Mr. Charles Wenman as producer the rest of the cast kept up the pace and the superficial glitter which were requisite for the success of the piece. Miss Isabelle Mahon made an interesting first appearance in Sydney as a hotel guest on the look-out for masculine escort. This Melbourne actress is very young and very petite and she brought to the part an impish sauciness which gave it individuality. Mr Leo Franklyn played effectively a juicily humorous role as a waiter. It was a type of acting quite opposed to Mr. Bluett’s. The co-respondent was a genuine character-study, but Mr. Franklyn’s waiter remained always directly conscious of the audience in the manner of the variety stage. He was, in fact, simply Mr. Franklyn, exploiting a number of those tricks and whimsies which have made this actor deservedly popular as a comedian. Miss Madge Aubrey failed to give conviction to the American speech which fell to her lot and this deprived her part of much of its point. Mr. Frank Leighton was always infectiously cheery as the solicitor. He needed to be nothing more. Mr. Arthur Cornell made the downright autocratic butler in the first act a notable figure of comedy. One would gladly have seen the character reappear.

Mr. Leslie Board had provided settings that reproduced the gaunt splendours of an English seaside hotel, plus a few chairs and tables which in their modest parade of chromium made a concession to the contemporary style. The ballet served mainly for the display of fashionable bathing attire but it had one really good dance to do.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Monday, 30 July 1934, p.5,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17109400

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RICH MUSIC OF ‘GAY DIVORCE’

Someone said once that ‘the films are eternally facing high-explosive shells for indecency while the theatre, unhindered, continues its bland wickedness and adroitly dramatised miscreancies.’

That doesn't describe ‘Gay Divorce,’ produced with gusto at the Theatre Royal last night with a brilliant cast and delicious music. But it certainly does describe tendencies in some of the self-styled ‘intimate’ musical comedies of to-day, and ‘Gay Divorce,’ despite its slickness and its quite hilarious plot, is not free from such tendencies.

One doesn’t hope to decide a sophisticated Sydney audience of 1934 on its standard of ‘risque.’ Heaven knows, we need entertaining nowadays without becoming prudish in our newspapers. But it is a fact, and irate theatre magnates can note — and destroy, if they desire — that ‘Gay Divorce,’ apart from the cheerfully naughty scheme of its ‘convenient divorce’ theme, Cyril Ritchard’s pyjamas, and Gus Bluett’s idyllic calling of professional co-respondent, has some murky twists in its first act which don't help the over-all excellence of the play as a play. Frigidity or the virility of squirrels are not, let us imagine, suitable themes for songs, even in a frankly almost-over-the-edge musical play.

Home-Grown Success

The presence of a simple and rhythmic theme song, ‘Night and Day,’ gives character to the musical ensemble. Director [Andrew] McCunn gets cunning effects from his orchestra; the score is full of rich harmonies. 

Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott grace the Australian stage as distinguished home-growns; they look good, their work is good; they have become so polished, so suave, so impellingy restrained.

Leo Franklyn, of course, needs no notice at all.  Let him amble around, and dance a little, and talk a little, and you have your comedian-as-he-should-be. I was struck (while on the subject of comedians) by the great improvement in Gus Bluett. His character-comedy part of Tonetti, the professional co-re., brought a newer and better Gus to the stage. Less riotous; less of that stage walk of his which annoyed everyone. He was very good indeed.

Fresher Ballets

Everyone in the cast deserves a mention, including the ballet mistress. Isabelle Mahon, a Melbourne girl, knows how to be a soubrette; Madge Aubrey supplies a necessary (and clever) foil for Madge Elliott; Frank Leighton is Frank Leighton.

The ballets are fresher, somehow, than usual. It may be because the girls look so vivid and healthy; you've only to see the bathing suit ballet to believe that. But there Is a vigor in their work which makes up for all the hard rehearsals, and, I understand, they satisfy even Mr. McCunn. That's that.

In conclusion: there may be some embarrassed, superficial laughter at some of the wise-cracks in the first act. But that won't spoil a clever show. Only the movies get criticised and censored, after all, officer! — F.E.B.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 29 July 1934, p.11, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229568798

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  1. Blue Mountain Melody (music and lyrics by Charles Zwar; book by J.C. Bancks) ‘An All-Australian Musical Comedy in Two Acts’ received its World premiere at the Theatre Royal, Sydney on 15 September 1934; produced by Frederick J. Blackman; ‘Ballets invented and arranged by Ruby Morriss’ and ‘Madge Elliott’s and Cyril Ritchard’s dances invented and arranged by Cyril Ritchard.’ Musical Director—Andrew MacCunn and ‘At the Pianos’—Charles Zwar (the composer) and Gabriel Joffe.

Prior to the musical’s opening, both the title number ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ and the Act 1 song ‘I Can See a Picture’ were recorded by Jim Davidson & His Orchestra (with vocals by John Warren) at EMI’s Sydney studios on 11 September 1934 and subsequently released on both sides of 78 rpm record issued on the Regal Zonophone label (cat. no. G-22179). The ‘foxtrot’ dance band arrangements were by Jim Davidson and D. Cantrell.

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BMMJ.C. Williamson Ltd. Magazine Program for the Sydney premiere season. Courtesy of Frank Van Straten.

AUSTRALIAN PLAY.
Success of ‘Blue Mountain Melody.’
BRIGHT MUSIC AND DIALOGUE

‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ which opened at the Theatre Royal on Saturday night promises to be an extraordinary successful musical play. Written by two Australians, Mr Charles Zwar and Mr. J.C. Bancks, it was not only—as Mr. Cyril Rltchard pointed out in a brief speech—superior to many productions of the same type which go on in London; but it exceeded in interest and attractiveness several of of the big oversea successes which have been transplanted to the Australian stage. It was, for example, a better play than ‘Gay Divorce.’

This success was all the more remarkable because the piece had been launched without any preliminary ‘try-out’ in a provincial city theatre. In England and America, men like C.B. Cochran and George White experiment with their elaborate productions for four or five weeks in places like Manchester and Philadelphia, and often make sweeping alterations in them, before facing audiences in London and New York. Even with spoken drama, where the text is inflexible as compared with the the fluid musical comedy form, it becomes more and more the rule to try conclusion with provincial playgoers first. Only a month or two ago, Margaret Lawrence and Douglas Fairbanks, junior, failed in the English provinces with ‘The Winding Journey,’ and the play never reached London at all.

With these considerations in mind, one was surprised not to find that there were weaknesses in ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ but to find that these weaknesses were so few in number. There is little that some judicious cutting will not remedy. At present, the show contains enough material for nearly two musical comedies. On Saturday night, the final curtain did not descend until half past eleven, and the tepid quality of the applause at the close showed that the audience had become wearied.

It is the second act, rather than the first which Mr. Frederick Blackman, as produter should attack with his scissors. The first moved at a brisk pace, and showed little that was redundant. The curtain rose to display an attractive example of Mr. Leslie Board’s scenic art. In the background, one looked across a vista of mountain valley, bathed in haze which would probably Iook unnaturally blue to a stranger in this country, but which really does reproduce the authentic colouring of the Blue Mountains on a propitious day. Gum-tree arched in this view. The only weakness is in the obvious artificiality of the luxurious flowers—a common weakness of J.C. Williamson productions, even when the flowers are in small quantities in vases.

The later Palm Peach scene gave Mr. Board even greater scope for effect. The applause which broke out at its revelation suggested that the audience had felt a thrill of praise at seeing the familiar sweep of sand, with Barrenjoey lighthouse on the rock at the end of it, besides recognising the obvious artistic merits of the scene. The setting reproduced the gaiety and glare of a New South Wales beach with remarkable fidelity.

The opening scene established at once both the wit and resourcefulness of Mr. Bancks, the author, and the crisp, fashionable charm of Mr. Zwar’s music. The composer had scored the various numbers with varied melodic effect; with unfailing taste; and, above all, with a really delightful feeling for rhythm. Two pianos played an important part In the orchestra. At one of these, Mr. Zwar himself appeared; and he showed, during a bright entr'act, that he is a jazz pianist of considerable attainment. The other was taken by Mr. Gabriel Joffe. Sometimes the scenes were supported by piano rhythm alone, when all the other instruments remained silent, and other times—notably in ‘I Can See a Picture’, which Miss Madge Elliott sang in the first act—two violins came into an isolated position to support the voice. In the second act, a brief interlude for scene-changing brought forth four girls’ voices unaccompanied, singing a series of reprises of the various melodies heard earlier in the piece. This was very charming. The madrigal, ‘When Knighthood Was in Flower,’ also had much melodic grace, in spite of its intentionally nonsensical text. Mr. Zwar wrote the lyrics, as well as the music.

The acting was all spirited, though nearly everyone seemed to be a little on edge, as though the responsibility of this new Australlan production had struck the cast with ungovernable nervousness. Mr. Cyril Ritchard and Miss Madge Elliott have never been more polished; nor has their stage ‘business’ been more interesting. Mr. Frank Leighton too, had been provided with splendid material.  He not only looked exceedingly handsome as the young painter who boxes so that he can earn money to pursue his art, but he seemed to have lost the musical-comedy mannerisms of deportment which weakened his style for so long.

But Mr. Bancks should certainly rewrite portions of this part. The curtain at the end of act one, where the young boxer, having been seemingly deserted by his fiancee, cries loudly for whisky, and then begins to weep in a maudlin hysteria of drunkeness, is painfully reminiscent of the appalling young men who haunt inferior Hollywood films. The gangsters, too, might very well be modified or even suppressed altogether. Popping ineffectually in and out of the story, and uttering copious American slang in […] Anglo-Australian voices, they seemed painfully amateurish. Even though Mr. Bancks indulges In the pardonable and pleasant fiction that King’s Cross has a sufficiently opulent night-life to boast a resplendent cabaret, there is no reason why he should not draw his villains from genuine Australian types. The incldent of the thwarted ‘hold-up’ was so lame on Saturday night that the audience tittered.

Another reform that ought to be carried out is an expurgation of the dialogue here and there. A few incidents, such as the dancing lesson in scene two, definitely offend against good taste.

There is a multitude of comedians in the cast. One of the princlpal among them is Mr. Don Nicol. Thoughout the first act he kept up a really extraordinary vitality and humour, as a young boxer whose pretensions far outran his capabilities. Mr. Nicol has that rare quality in a comedian, the ability to mingle fun and pathos so intimately that the border between them vanishes. It is a quality which caused Charlie Chaplin’s later comedies to be highly prized by people who had hitherto looked down on him as simply a man with funny feet and moustache. The fact that Mr. Nicol's doings become a little tiresome in the second act was due to the text, which here inclined to repetition, rather than to any fault of the actor.

Miss Agnes Doyle seemed ill at ease in the part as soubrette, though she put Mr. Banks’ effective lines of repartee clearly across to the audience. Once she settles down into the role she will assuredly be excellent. Miss Marie Le Varre, as usual, made the very most of every line and every situation allotted to her. She always acts with infectious comic zest. Mr. Leo Franklyn, though a little over-conscious of the audience, was persistently amusing as the pugilist-hero's manager. Mr. Athol Tier was a droll life-saver, and Mr. George Moon cut a comic figure as the timid chauffeur.

Miss Ruby Morriss had shown great inventtiveness in devising the ballets. These proved to be few in number; but what there was had been worked out with brilliant elaboration; and they made use of effects of lighting and of dramatic shadow in a way which far excelled anything done so far in the Australian theatre. ‘Shadows’ was the principal success. There was also a very good adagio dance by Mr. Eric Bush and Miss Mona Zeppel on Palm Beach. Other numbers in the Palm Beach scene, which should certainly not be dropped in any revision, were the amusing quintet, ‘All the Best People,’ and the dance, ‘Let's Relax,’ by Mr. Ritchard and Miss Elliott.

Mr. Andrew MacCunn directed the orchestra. Special mention is due, also, to Mr. L. Worran for his lighting effects. He will, no doubt, remedy some slight imperfections at the later performances.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Monday, 17 September 1934, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17095409

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‘Blue Mountain Melody’

Produced with the most lavish effects of scenery, costume, colour, and light, the Australian musical comedy ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ written by J.C. Bancks, with music and lyrics by Charles Zwar—youthful Australians who have both given many proofs of their artistic capabilities—was presented by the J.C. Williamson management on Saturday night at the Theatre Royal with every aid to complete success. In this endeavour to foster Australian musicians and dramatists ‘the Firm’ have followed—and done well in following—the precedent set recently by Mr. F.W. Thring with ‘Collits’ Inn’ and—to a lesser degree—with ‘The Beloved Vagabond;’ and the combined efforts of these entrepreneurs in this direction must be of inestimable advantage to Australian artists and to Australian art.

In commenting upon this first production of ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ the critic is swayed by the remembrance of two things: First, that it is almost entirely Australian in construction—I would have omitted the 'almost' were it not that it is impossible to overlook the great part played in its success by Mr. Blackman, the producer, who is an Englishman—a fact which naturally tends to bias judgment in its favour; and second, that, as Mr. Cyril Ritchard informed the audience at curtain-fall, it is rarely that any large city is given the opportunity to see a first performance ‘cold’ (that is without preliminary ‘trials on the dog’ in an out-of-the-way theatre) and with all those faults and excrescences uneliminated which can only be found and corrected by the experience of a number of performances. In this case Saturday’s audience had the unique opportunity of witnessing a first production on any stage with all those imperfections on its head that only such a first production can—and inevitably does—make patent. In the first place, it is clear that Saturday’s performance was much too long—the final curtain did not fall till after 11.30 p.m.—and excision will therefore have to be drastically resorted to. I suggest that a commencement might be made in this direction by curtailing the first scenes of the first and second acts—both of which, and especially the latter, would well stand compression—and by doing away with some of the interludes sung and spoken before the scene-drop in the second act. I would also add ‘The Bloody Tower’ item to the list of appropriate victims of the pruning knife, were it not for the beauty of its madrigal-like music. The words are so patent an appeal to those who imagine it to be the height of humour and dramatic craft to hear the great Australian adjective upon the stage that they might well be amended.

And this comment naturally leads up to a consideration of the second—and only other—serious defect in ‘Blue Mountain Melody’—its humour. Much of this is excellent; but some of it is cheap, with the usual concomitant of cheapness, and one could not help echoing the request of one of the characters to ‘leave out all this vulgar stuff about bed.’ Much of the dialogue might appropriately be made the subject of a similar appeal, and a ready response to that appeal would not only greatly improve the tone of the production, but would also assist towards the desirable shortening of the whole piece.

Apart from these two faults, the musical comedy is attractive in every way. The music all through is excellently conceived and scored, and Mr. Zwar is to be distinctly congratulated upon his share in the production. Mr. Bancks has a ready and vivacious wit, which—with the exceptions referred to—he exploits very neatly, while the lyrics are both clever and topical. The dressing and mounting are beyond praise, and the numerous ballets—invented and arranged by Ruby Morriss—are as novel as they are beautiful; and, in conclusion, the acting, singing, and dancing of the principals are in every case up to the reputations of the executants. Remembering that the cast includes such well-proved favourites as Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, Agnes Doyle and Frank Leighton, Marie Le Varre and Leo Franklyn, Don Nicol and Athol Tier, this is saying a great deal.

The scenery, which was extraordinarily fine, especially the beach and mountain settings, was the work of Mr. Leslie Board; the brightly effective costumes were designed by Jessie Tait, Gretel Bulmore, and Pierre Fornari; and Andrew MacCunn directed the musical side of the production with his usual careful and sympathetic attention—S.E.N.

The Sydney Mail (NSW), Wednesday, 19 September 1934, p.17,  https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166108136

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Local Play By The Local Lads
‘Blue Mountain Melody’ Is IT

By F.E. BAUME

The Play: ‘Blue Mountains Melody’

The Theatre: Theatre Royal (JCW)

In the book, color, and music of ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ the Australian Theatre ceases to look through a glass darkly.

Ahead lies a vividly bright theatrical future. It had been obscured for too long, not because of theatrical producers, but on account of an apathetic public, fickle and sweetly condescending in its attitude towards anything which did not come from Mayfair, 42nd Street, or Upper Mongolia; disdainful of its own musicians, writers, artists.

Last night’s premiere at the Theatre Royal was really far more than a social function. It was the first presentation of a sophisticated musical comedy in which the Blue Mountains were just as effective a backdrop as, say, the Canadian Rockies in ‘Rose Marie.’

Palm Beach, with the modern backless-costumed misses, we know so well, strangely enough, Mr. Knocker of Australian work, looked just as beautiful as, for example, a scene of Biarritz, which too many of our affluent globe-trotting leaders of society have been regarding as a necessity in any Australian theatre; because they went there once.

And Jimmy Bancks, of our own ‘Sunday Sun,’ with composer Charles Zwar, and two grand pianos, has succeeded in convincing theatregoers that it is not at all bad form to laugh at something which, believe it or not, is our own joke, our very local joke.

It’s Local

Realise that for many years hundreds of American Jimmy Bancks and Zwars faced a public, as merciless as the Australian public has been to its own stories. Then came the sudden realisation (as it has come here) that the theatre can be as national as the Melbourne Cup.

So in the past month many a conservative first nighter has convinced herself that she is not offending the social laws by becoming enthusiastic about local genius.

Let’s use the word local, and be proud of it. ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ is one by the local boys about the good old local life. Ben Hecht and Sinclair Lewis were once local boys before the glorious wave of national appreciation made them world figures.

That same appreciation will produce world famous Australian plays. The Taits will tell you that. It's getting hard enough to get good plays from anywhere!

Getting back to our ‘Melody.’ The libretto is slick. Bancks has humor: That you know from Ginger Meggs. He has a cheerful Australian twist which he will develop further in other plays, considering that in his first he has found situations which practised playwrights have missed, He has had the horsesense to work in with Producer Blackman; with the result that the intense and brilliant production shows the strength of Blackman’s clever hand.

Needs Faster Action

With a stronger opening—not from the standpoint of color, but from that of faster action—the audience would be warmer quickly. They soon work up to appreciation as it is.

The music is adequate and of lyric quality. It needs no great strength, and it is never overdone. But it is better than 90 per cent. of music which makes its way into Australia from overseas musical comedies.

The ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ theme song is excellent. It will be heard from under many a shower in the early morning during the next few months.

No better vehicles than Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard could have been found for the play. They work so hard and do so much for the script. So does Leo Franklyn. So do Frank Leighton and Marie Le Varre and Agnes Doyle—in short, so does the whole company, ballets, chorus, 'n' everything. Don Nicol is a new comedian who will be heard of again.

The designing of the dresses brings a little romance from real life into a musical romance. Jessie Tait is E.J. Tait's daughter and Jim Bancks’s wife. She, with Gretel Bullmore and Fornari, created costumes which reflect the sunshine which we are supposed to have in Sydney. As a matter of fact, Jessie Tait has always been an indefatigable worker for the theatre. I foresee several more plays in which she and her husband will have much to do.

‘Blue Mountain Melody’ I have discussed as a bright, modern musical comedy; clean, clever, and attractive, with a simple little story and a wealth of stagecraft, produced by the local boys, helped by the local girls.

Let this be a message to Australian writers and musicians: Will Shakespeare was a local lad in Stratford. Then a theatre put on some of his plays. 

Will became a decided theatrical success. So did the English theatre.

That’s all.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 16 September 1934, p.9, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article230319500

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‘BLUE MOUNTAIN MELODY.’
Gus Bluett Joins Cast.

Gus Bluett has joined the cast of ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ at the Theatre Royal, to take the role of Dynamite Danny Duffy. Mr. J.C. Bancks, the author of this Australian musical comedy, wrote the part for Mr. Bluett. Hitherto it had been taken by Don Nicol, who has now been transferred to another character.

Dynamite Danny Duffy is a slow-witted and consistently unsuccessful boxer. Mr. Bluett embellishes the part with many absurdities of facial expression and gesture. In the first act his vacuousness and his lack of control over arms, legs, and a large cigar is most comical, and the audience made it clear that it was vastly amused. His fooling during the singing of the song, ‘All the Best People,’ is in Mr. Bluett's best manner. The addition of this popular comedian adds to the attractions of a cast that was already a strong one, including, as it did, Madge Elliott, Cyril Ritchard, Leo. Franklyn, Marie Le Varre, Frank Leighton, and others.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Tuesday, 2 October 1934, p.10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17142841

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AUSTRALIAN PLAY AS TALKIE
‘Blue Mountain Melody’ Scores Success
J. C. Williamson’s Plans

‘Such is the success of the Australian musical comedy, “Blue Mountain Melody” in Sydney that we are going to make a talkie film version of it,’ said the managing director of J.C. Williamson, Ltd. (Mr. E.J. Tait) who is now in Brisbane in connection with the first Australian appearances of the Russian Ballet.

‘At the same time,’ added Mr. Tait, ‘although we are naturally keen to see Australian plays firmly established, producing them is an experiment that is in the nature of a gamble. We must be sure that there will be an overseas market for our theatrical productions, just as it is necessary to ensure on overseas market for our agricultural produce. For this reason it is necessary to walk warily. But I am of the opinion that the production overseas of Australian stage plays would be as good publicity for this country as the screening in the cinemas of the world of Australian films.’

HUGE STAGE COSTS.

Mr. Tait said that now the theatre was regaining its old popularity the prospects for Australian plays were much brighter. The main snag was the heavy cost of stage production. A story could be filmed for, say, £10,000, but a musical comedy would cost that sum before the curtain rose, and after that there would be the additional big weekly salary bill and the high cost of the transportation of the company from one city to another. It was in this respect that films competed with the stage on extremely favourable terms.

Illustrating the cost of moving a large stage company, Mr. Tait said that to bring ‘White Horse Inn’ to Brisbane would mean incurring a charge of £800 for transportation alone. Then, as Brisbane is a theatrical cul de sac, it would be necessary for the box office receipts to approximate £6,000 in two weeks to make the venture a payable one.

‘The proposition looks impossible,’ he added, ‘but we are exploring the possibilities of bringing the company here—as there is no doubt that Brisbane would be delighted with the show. It is now in its eleventh week in Melbourne and seems likely to run another five, while in Sydney it attracted vast audiences.’

FOR DUKE’S GALA.

‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ the libretto of which was written by Mr. Tait's son-in-law, J.C. Bancks, the Sydney ‘Sun’ artist who created the famous ‘Ginger Meggs,’ was woven round Australian stage favourites such as Madge Elliott and Cyril Rltchard, and for this reason alone had a special appeal for Australian audiences. The composer is another young Australian—Charles Zwar, while the producer F.J. Blackman. Is well known to Brisbane audiences. This Australian musical play has been chosen for presentation at the gala performance in honour of the Duke of Gloucester on November 8.

Mr. Tait mentioned that Beaumont Smith would make the film version of ‘Blue Mountain Melody.’

The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.), Wednesday, 10 October 1934, p.13 (extract), https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182401219

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N.B.  £10,000 in 1934 is equivalent to approx. $1,040,510 in today’s money; £800 = approx. $83,240; £6,000 = approx. $634,306

(ref. https://www.rba.gov.au/calculator/annualPreDecimal.html )

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In the event J.C. Williamson’s mooted plans to film the musical with its original stage cast, however, did not eventuate. 

The production moved on to Melbourne, where it received a gala premiere at the newly renovated His Majesty’s Theatre on Thursday, 8 November 1934 in the presence of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (the third son of King George V, and later Governor-General of Australia between 1945–1947) who was visiting Australia as guest of honour to attend the Centenary celebrations marking the founding of the City of Melbourne. 

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DUKE ATTENDS GALA THEATRE NIGHT

Garlands of flowers adorned the interior of His Majesty’s Theatre last night for the Gala performance of ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ given in honor of the Duke of Gloucester.

The whole of the façade of the dress circle was wreathed with ropes of roses, and the backs of each of the two upper boxes were covered with massed flowers in blue, red and gold, while over the royal box a coat of arms in flowers stood out in bold relief.

The Duke of Gloucester was received on his arrival by Mr Frank Tait, and immediately proceeded to his box; accompanying him were Lord and Lady Huntingfield and Lieut-Colonel Howard Vyse.

Lady Huntingfield, who sat in the box with the Duke of Gloucester, wore a black flat crepe gown with gleaming crystal beads forming the trimming around the neck, and in her hair she wore a tiara.

An exquisite presentation posy of roses was placed on the ledge of the box. In the box next to the Duke, Lord Huntingfield and Major-General Howard Vyse were seated.

Enthusiastic Reception

The entrance of the Duke was the signal for much enthusiasm from the crowded house; and from the moment the curtain went up until the thrilling moment at the end of the performance, when Miss Strella Wilson, accompanied by the band from the H.M.S. Sussex, sang ‘Land of Hope and Glory,’ the gala atmosphere prevailed.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Friday, 9 November 1934, p.18 (extract), https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243088434

The Gala performance was broadcast live from His Majesty’s Theatre by Melbourne radio 3LO and on relay to 2FC (Sydney), 2CO (Corowa), 2NC (Newcastle), 4QG (Brisbane), 4RK (Rockingham), 5CL (Adelaide) and 5CK (Crystal Brook, SA).

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BLUE MOUNTAIN MELODY
AUSTRALIAN MUSICAL COMEDY.
Colorful Spectacle, Delightful Music.

You will bring away from Blue Mountain Melody, an Australian musical comedy staged at His Majesty’s Theatre on Derby night, the impression of brilliant mountain and beach settings, light music, and the peculiarly physical urge of life in the sunshine and open air. And that is something for which Charles Zwar, who wrote the lyrics and music; J.C. Bancks, who wrote the book; Frederick Blackman, who produced, and the excellent cast of Australian principals deserve our warmest congratulations. It may be considered that there is too much dialogue telling a thin story; that rapidly-spoken exchanges do not always pass for wit, without which spectacle is not enough; that the piece is not sufficiently daring in vividly familiar scenes; and that the music is not closely related to the action throughout. But should we expect so much from what is but an experimental production? If Blue Mountain Melody succeeds in stimulating the invention and staging here of better, if not brighter, entertainment of wholly Australian origin, it will have been well worth while.

The plot of Blue Mountain Melody has something to do with a middle weight boxer, Jimmy Brady, and Judy Trent, a singer and dancer at Heeney's Cafe in Darlinghurst, who inspires him to championship form, but who is infatuated by Peter Hurley, a young squatter. Comic relief in humorous frivolity is afforded by Dynamite Danny Duffy, another boxer who lives on his reputation; Rosie O'Dare, his girl friend; Sport Moroney, Brady’s manager; Blondie, a sporting blonde, and the diminutive George Gangle, Peter's chauffeur. But the plot is but an excuse for dancing and singing and ballet ensembles. There are smart numbers, like Peter is Here (at the mountain hotel) and All the Best People (at Palm Beach); and the songs and refined dances of Cyril Ritchard (Peter) and Madge Elliott (Judy)—Send Me a Telegram, Let's Relax and the elaborate Shadows—provide spectacle and character in exquisite grace, color and expressive movement. There is the original dance of Frank Leighton (Jimmy Brady) and the ballet, Hard Knocks, essentially expressing the theme, and the attractive pantomime and chorus Foils and Clubs.  Gus Bluett (Dynamite Danny) clowns inimitably in almost every scene to the uproarious delight of everyone, and Leo Franklyn (Sport Moroney) is brought in with a life-saving reel by charming rescuers from the body of the theatre. Agnes Doyle (Rosie) makes a hit with the number Don't Forget Your Etiquette. Mona Zeppel and Eric Bush dance splendidly in the Palm Beach Girl scene.

Don Nicol is best in an eccentric dance. Marie Le Varre (Blondie) and George Moon (Gangle) contribute a burlesque duet, I’m Yours, and the male sextet When Knighthood Is In Flower will undoubtedly be encored, with variations in its presentation, throughout the season. Late in the piece Miss Elliott and Mr. Rltchard sing and dance Blue Mountain Melody with the ballet; Arthur Clarke uses his fine voice effectively in the microphone with the Kelly Trio; the stage begins to revolve in the second act, and the show comes out late.

But the brilliant color effects in lighting and staging remain pleasantly. You enjoy the novelty of a new orchestral conductor, Andrew MacCunn, of Sydney, who will return there on Wednesday; of the presence of the composer and Essie Morison at the piano; of Ruby Morris’s work in arranging the ballets; of Leslie Board’s scenery, and a variety of costumes in modern styles. Yet the outstanding feature of Blue Mountain Melody is the physical spectacle. In this production the male physique deliberately takes its place with the inevitable and ever-charming parade of feminine beauty. There is hope for the theatre when it takes its men as seriously as its women.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 5 November 1934, p.14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205083824

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25. BMM cast list26. BMM prog 2

27. BMM prog 3Cast credits, Synopsis of Scenes and Musical Numbers as listed for the Melbourne season. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.

 

His Majesty’s
AMONG THE MOUNTAINS
A Colourful Production

Whether the setting is Mayfair or Montmartre, Damascus, or Darlinghurst, the spirit of musical comedy varies little. The audience which welcomed the first Melbourne performance of ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ at His Majesty's on Saturday received few surprises, except perhaps for the smoothness and technical resource of this ‘home-grown’ musical comedy. Mr. J.C. Bancks has striven to bring his ‘book’ into line with the immemorial tradition of musical comedy. He has chosen a fragile and meandering plot with plenty of spectacular effect, and decorated it neatly and wittily. Mr. Charles Zwar's music and lyrics are in the same vein—apt and pointed, with a touch of sentimentality when required, but acid enough to stimulate the appetite. The work of these two talented young Australians gained still more in finish from the admirable production of Mr. Frederick Blackman and the interpretation of an experienced and popular cast headed by Miss Madge Elliott, Mr. Cyril Ritchard, and Mr. Gus Bluett. ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ is not an experiment; it is old wine—and smooth wine—in new bottles.

There never has been, and there probably never will be a musical comedy which is not a tale of true love thwarted but triumphant. Mr. Bancks’s hero is Jimmy Brady, a highly successful young pugilist with artistic aspirations. He spends his time happily painting canvases, punching bags, and making love to the beautiful Judy Trent in the idyllic setting of the Blue Mountains. Quite naturally he becomes jealous, however, when the wealthy and attractive Peter Harley turns up and pays attention to Judy. There is a realistic lovers’ quarrel, and the old three-handed game is played out to a finish, leaving Jimmy, very much chastened despite his successes in the ring and at the easel, begging forgiveness of the faithful Judy. The theme is simple, but it is sufficient to carry the players through 10 spectacular and cleverly contrasted scenes, varying from a house party at Palm Beach to a Darlinghurst cafe. This rapid switching of scene, aided by a generous infusion of songs, dances, and comic interludes, lightens the author's task of banishing care. The smoothness with which the players worked into their parts suggested that the book had been written with an eye to the cast. Miss Madge Elliott, as the maidenly Judy, and Mr. Cyril Ritchard, as the breezy Peter, were as captivating as ever; if their singing was not remarkable, their dancing was unexcelled. Their spirited little duet and dance "Send Me a Telegram," in the first scene, was a foretaste of the striking and imaginative shadow dance, which was the highlight of the production. In this ensemble the miming of the dancers was skilfully exaggerated by trick lighting. Mr. Zwar’s orchestration of this number was most effective, and his final song, ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ suited Miss Elliott’s voice perfectly. Mr. Gus Bluett made the part of ‘Dynamite’ Danny Duffy an unfailing well of laughter. Mr. Frank Leighton was well cast as Jimmy, the aesthetic middle-weight, and his acting, singing, and dancing were unobtrusive and competent. The cast is rich in comedians. Mr. Leo Franklyn, as a ‘hard-boiled’ boxing promoter; Mr. George Moon, as a comic chauffeur; Mr. Don. Nicol, as a life-saver, a waiter, a gardener, and other things; together with Miss Marie Le Varre and Miss Agnes Doyle added to the gaiety of the show.

Miss Ruby Morriss's arrangement of the ballets is smooth and efficient. Mr. Andrew MacCunn conducted the orchestra discreetly, in the temporary absence of Mr. William Qulntrell.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 5 November 1934, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10991501

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  1. Roberta (music by Jerome Kern; book and lyrics by Otto Harbach; adapted from Alice Duer Miller’s novel ‘Gowns by Roberta’) received its Australian premiere at His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on 22 December 1934; ‘The entire production, including Ballets and Dances, produced by Cyril Rltchard.’

THEY ALL LIKE ‘ROBERTA’
Lavish Musical Show

Never has a company been more interested in a show than that which is rehearsing ‘Roberta.’

J.C. Williamson Ltd. declares that this will be the most spectacular musical comedy production ever staged under its management.

When ‘Roberta’ is presented at His Majesty’s on December 22 Cyril Ritchard thinks that it will be more attractive than when he saw it in New York. This is the musical comedy which Mr Ritchard purchased for J.C. Williamson Ltd. and which he is to produce.

One of the improvements to be made is a big dancing finale to the first act. The curtain went down on a quiet scene in the New York production, and Jerome Kern, the composer, told Mr Ritchard that he was never satisfied with it.

Kern had intended that Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott should play in ‘Roberta’ in London, but because his venture with ‘The Three Sisters’ at Drury Lane failed he postponed the production.

Mr Ritchard says that while he was in New York music from ‘Roberta,’ and particularly the number ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,’ was broadcast frequently and interest in the show was enhanced. That was proof of the merit of the music.

This is the first occasion on which Mr Ritchard has been responsible for the entire production of a musical comedy. His chief ambitions have been to conduct an orchestra and play Hamlet. In ‘Roberta’ he will be the conductor of a jazz band, and the comedian, Leo Franklyn, will appear as his manager.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 8 December 1934, p.35 (extract), https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243088579

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RobertaJ.C. Williamson Ltd. Magazine Program for the Melbourne premiere season. State Library Victoria, Melbourne. View full program.

‘ROBERTA’ PREMIERE
New Producer With Ideas

There will be tremendous cheering after the great dancing finale to the first act of ‘Roberta,’ at His Majesty's tonight. This finale was not in the New York production. It is Cyril Ritchard’s idea.

Mr Ritchard was associated with the production of ‘Blue Roses,’ and the revivals of ‘Our Miss Gibbs’ and ‘The Quaker Girl,’ but this marks the first occasion on which he has been an independent producer.

After having seen ‘Roberta’ in New York, Mr Ritchard did not obtain hundreds of sketches and detailed directions of every dance number.

All the notes which Mr Ritchard made on the New York production were contained on the front page of a programme.

Instead of attempting to make an exact copy of everything he saw he has given his own interpretation of a good musical piece and thus has invested the production with spontaneity.

Mr Ritchard thinks that the public will be delighted with the story and romantic atmosphere of ‘Roberta,’ and has no doubt about the merit of the comedy. This musical comedy is by Otto Harbach and Jerome Kern, the librettist and composer of many brilliant successes; ‘Smoke Gels in Your Eyes,’ one of the song hits, was the rage of New York.

Modern in every respect, ‘Roberta’ contains some remarkable scenes. An American bar in Paris will display more than 1000 bottles of various brands of liquor. This brilliantly lighted scene caused a furore in New York. The dressing is a revelation. A wonderful fashion parade by mannequins will be an outstanding feature tonight.

George Upward has painted the scenery for ‘Roberta,’ which is in two acts of nine scenes.

Ethel Morrison will be Aunt Minnie, the modiste, whose trade name is Roberta. She was engaged by Mr Ritchard in New York for the part, for which she was strongly recommended by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach. Madge Elliott has the part of a Russian Princess, who works for Roberta, and helps to conduct the establishment after the death of that kindly person. The tenor, John Dudley, who has been transferred from the company headed by Sylvia Welling, will be associated with her in a good singing role.

J.C. Williamson Ltd. declares that ‘Roberta’ is the most costly musical comedy it has staged. Six hundred yards of ring velvet constituted one item of expenditure. This is used for curtains in two scenes.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 22 December 1934, p.31 (extract), https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243081925

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30. Roberta scene 2Roberta—Act II Scene 2—Willy’s American Bar in Paris (scenery by George Upward). Courtesy of Frank Van Straten.

 

ROBERTA.
Brilliant Production at His Majesty’s.

Roberta, which opened brilliantly at His Majesty’s on Saturday, shows how the times have changed the characters of musical comedy. In the old days the principals were a ravishing shopgirl with a name like Mary Gibbs, and a gay young peer, or an impecunious bank clerk and a magnate’s magnetic daughter. But in Roberta the principals are a college football player and a former Russian princess, and the cast includes a crooner (who happily does not croon) and a bunch of jazz players. For the rest Roberta sticks to the honored traditions of musical comedy. It has more comedy than mush, and more color and verve than either. Indeed, in dressing it is brilliant, and the parade of the mannequins at the Paris showroom is a highlight. Then again the cast is a strong one, and the plot is almost coherent. There are many risque allusions and undressing scenes. Roberta is as coyly erratic as it is romantic, and so everything seems set for a successful run. Otto Harbach, who wrote the book and lyrics, has succeeded in achieving an evenly-spaced play that is definitely free from dull moments, and Jerome Kern has provided music which is always apposite, articulate and in good artistic taste, though lacking in the kind of lilting melodies that compel themselves to be whistled afterwards in the bath. The large and fashionable first-night audience was in no two minds about the quality of Roberta. Its applause was hearty and continuous.

An indication of the plot may be given in a few lines. The hero, John Kent (Frank Leighton) is one of those muscular youths, the soul of good nature, and a miracle of thick-headedness, whose sole conversation consists of ‘Aw gee, that’s swell.’ As his friends point out, this is hardly fluent enough to satisfy the demands of Sophie Teale, the debutante, for whom he entertains a devastating passion. Sophie, accordingly, treats him as though he were a footman instead of a football player.  With the scornful words ‘Small-town!’ on her lips, she hands him back his ring. They meet again in Paris, where Sophie is holidaying, and John has inherited a partnership in the famous modeste business known as Roberta’s. The other partner is Stephanie (Madge Elliott), a former Russian princess, who quickly falls in love with the big American. Complications to this budding love affair arise in the persons of a doorman, who sings divinely, and who was once a Russian prince (John Dudley), and a Polish cabaret star named Sharwenka, Roberta's best, customer, and a woman of tempestuous temperament and amorous proclivities. Sharwenka makes a dead set at John, and Ladislaw, the singing doorman, is understood to be devoted to Stephanie. With the exception of a prologue set at Haverill College, USA, the whole of the action takes place in Paris.

Cyril Ritchard, is his customary polished self as Huck Haines, the orchestra leader and college friend of John, who steers that strong, silent chap out of the arms of Sophie and into those of Stephanie. He is on the stage more than anyone else, and the continuous allegro of the play is to no small extent due to his dash and elan. As Sharwenka, Marie Le Varre scores one of the successes of a long career. Though unnecessarily strident at times, she gives a masterly interpretation of the explosive cabaret star, whose capital is largely her exotic personality and her reputation for tantrums and love affairs. Her appearance as a mannequin in bride's dress and her singing of I’ll Be Hard to Handle brought down the house. Madge Elliott skilfully suggested the wistful, artistic Russian nature, and her dancing and singing attained her usual high standard. As the football player Frank Leighton was handsome enough, in spite of his limited vocabulary, to fire any girl’s heart. Leo Franklyn’s part was a small one, as a collegian, but he did what he had to do well. Ethel Morrison brought dignity and old-fashioned charm to the role of Roberta, and Jean Duncan gave a deft sketch of the somewhat acidulated Sophie. His role as Ladislaw did not give John Dudley many appearances, but when he did appear he used his splendid voice to advantage. The snap and sparkle of the ballet and the magnificence of the dresses contribute much to make Roberta a show particularly in harmony with the holiday mood.

The play was produced by Mr. Cyril Rltchard.  Matinees will be given next Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Holiday booking on Wednesday will be available at His Majesty’s Theatre.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 24 December 1934, p.10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205071397

31. Roberta scene 5Roberta—Act II Scene 5—Café Russe, Paris (scenery by George Upward) Cyril Ritchard and Frank Leighton at table on left—John Dudley with guitar at back left—Marie Le Varre standing at centre stage. Courtesy of Frank Van Straten.

32. Roberta cartoon montageKerwin Maegraith caricatures. The Sydney Mail, 20 March 1935, p.14.

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His Majesty’s
MODES AND MANNEQUINS
A Spectacle With Music

The spirit of musical comedy is perennial, but its face is always changing. In response to the challenge of the films stage mechanics have been developed to permit of a much more rapid and varied pattern of lights and colours than was possible a few years ago. ‘Roberta’ is a sign of the times. The appeal of this new production from New York is almost entirely to the eye. Those two experienced craftsmen, Otto Harbach and Jerome Kern, who wrote the book and music, are responsible for very little of the success of the production. The appeal of ‘Roberta’ lies in the dressing, the sets, the stage lighting, and the dances. But for these it would be tame and long-winded. The performance on Saturday night was admirably staged and smoothly carried through. The success of the production belongs largely to Mr. Cyril Ritchard, who is making his debut as producer, and to the stage manager, Mr. H.C. Nightingale. Mr. Ritchard’s work on the stage is as attractive as ever, but his work behind the scenes is even more important.

In seeking a theme for his ‘book,’ Harbach has kept in mind the paramount claim of the eye. The plot is taken from a novel, ‘Gowns by Roberta,’ by Alice Miller. There are no spacious out-door sets in the play, but to compensate there is a succession of ornate showrooms, bars, cabarets, and, above all, mannequin parades. The wings pour forth an endless succession of lavishly gowned girls. There are walking suits, beach suits, cocktail suits, wedding dresses, evening dresses, and even nightdresses. The play is a living architecture of feminine clothes, shrewdly set off with lighting and music. The keystone of the pattern Is an ingeniously conceived ballet, ‘Shadows in Silver,’ in which the dancers, clothed in metal tissues of contrasted colours, go through a series of dramatic postures under a kaleidoscope of moving lights and shadows. Even this effectively staged dance is only an Item in a fashion parade.

In this heavily scented atmosphere an orthodox musical comedy romance-with-misunderstandings is played out between a Russian princess, turned modiste, and an American footballer, also turned modiste. It is a fantastic contrast, but it has been worked out with no touch of malice, and very few touches of wit. Scenes which might have been given an ironic twist slip limply by with a little obvious sentimentality and a touch of slapstick comedy toward the inevitable conclusion. Mr. Frank Leighton is hardly husky enough for the footballer, but he plays his part with spirit. Miss Madge Elliott’s dignity and grace of bearing are admirably suited to the part of Stephanie, the rather wistful princess. She dances as well as ever, and uses her voice with intelligence in the gracefully sentimental songs which are given her. It is a part which fits her like a glove. 

Mr. Ritchard leads a small army of comedians with his breezy air and happy stage manners. He suggests rather a young man about town than an American crooner and jazz band leader. Perhaps this is just as well, because Mr. Ritchard has a more attractive personality than most crooners, and realism is unnecessary in a musical comedy. His only serious moments are when he is dancing. Then he is very serious and very good. One of the most satisfactory performances in the show is given by Miss Ethel Morrison as the great Roberta, first modiste of Paris, or Aunt Minnie, as she is known to her American nephew. Miss Morrison plays the part with an ease and grace which are refreshing. In striking contract is Miss Marie Le Varre, who makes huge fun as a temperamental and roguish cabaret singer. Mr. Leo Franklyn’s slapstick is funny enough, although he slips into crudity in attempting to eke out a weak series of parodies on American radio ‘stars.’ Miss Jean Duncan has a lot too much charm to make a cheap American debutante, but she acts the part with plenty of spirit. The show is strengthened musically by the presence of Mr. John Dudley with his beautiful tenor, in a small part. Miss Ruby Morriss has brought the ballet to its usual degree of smoothness, and Mr. William Quintrell’s handling of the orchestra is resourceful.

Matinees will be given on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and next Tuesday (New Year’s Day). Holiday booking will be available at His Majesty’s Theatre on Wednesday.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 24 December 1934, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11003186

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BEHIND THE SCENES.
SHIFTERS USE WHITE GLOVES.
MISS ELLIOTT ON A DANCER’S LIFE.

The members of the musical comedy company who appear to-night at the opening of ‘Roberta’ arrived from Melbourne yesterday. In the Theatre Royal, amidst a great bustling and hurry, while the rehearsal was proceeding, and piles of ‘props’ and scenery were being brought in, scene-shifters astonishingly gloved in white moved sundry articles about.

‘There's no joke about it,’ said Mr. Cyril Ritchard, the producer. ‘Stage hands in gloves may look odd, but there's a good reason. This show is so elaborate and costly that they have to wear them. There is a whole setting in black satin, and furniture and scenery in white satin. Then we have two sets of curtains, 600 yards of a “ring” velvet which any woman would be delighted with for a dress, and so on, and it is to keep them fresh and unsoiled that we have this strange circumstance of scene-shifters in gloves. But I want to stress the point that “Roberta” does not depend on costly accessories. They must be there because the play is about a dress shop and you can’t fool women with faked stuff. “Roberta” is full of charming melodies. It was the biggest success of 1934 in New York, the only real 'smash hit' during the depression, and it was the biggest thrill of my theatrical life that I was given the job of producing it.’

Speaking on the subject of play production and the picture competition, Mr. Ritchard said that as long as theatrical managers gave fair treatment to production and did not just put on plays to try to fill the theatre, there was no question about the theatre being able to hold its own. Definitely, he believed, the theatre was gaining ground against the picture show, but one effect of the pictures was that it was no longer possible to send small touring companies with mediocre productions into the provinces. They had to be first class shows.

A DANCER’S LIFE.

Miss Madge Elliott announced that her marriage to Mr. Ritchard will take place at the end of the season in Sydney, after which they will take a honeymoon trip to America and England, with a holiday visit to Honolulu. ‘This is a much harder life than people generally realise,’ she said in an interval during the rehearsal. ‘It's especially so with the dancing because you can't let yourself go for even one day. A weekend, and if you don't practise on the Monday you stiffen up unbelievably. We do what we call limbering up. I have to practise perhaps half an hour before the show. Practising the dancing as well as taking a part is very strenuous, If I have for some reason a lapse of say three weeks without practise, it is as If I hadn't been dancing for six months.’

Speaking of the evolution of dancing, Miss Elliott said she felt that perhaps it was losing something of its gracefulness, trending a little towards the ‘barbarous,’ the result of the modern styles. Dancing in ballrooms, she thought, was somewhat grotesque, but she believes it will return to a more graceful style and some of the old-time dancing.

A prominent member of the company is Miss Ethel Morrison, who is well known in Sydney and recently spent three years in America. The theatrical profession, she said, had a terribly bad experience in the depression, but she believed there were signs of improvement. At one period the Federal Government helped the actors and actresses by sending companies to places where they played in colleges and schools so that they were able to make a little and tide over the bad times. She enjoyed her visit, but was glad to get back to Australia, and to Sydney. She expressed herself as extremely happy in her association with Miss Elliott and Mr. Ritchard in such a beautiful play as ‘Roberta.’

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Saturday, 16 March 1935, p.15, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17153673

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  1. High Jinks (music by Rudolf Friml; lyrics by Otto Harbach; book by Leo Ditrichstein and Otto Harbach, based on Les Dragées d’Hercule by Maurice Hennequin and Paul Bilhaud) received its Australian premiere by JCW Ltd. at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on 6 February 1915; produced by Harry B. Burcher, with dances by Minnie Hooper. JCW subsequently co-produced the London premiere of the musical (with Alfred Butt) at the Adelphi Theatre on 24 August 1916 in a revised version adapted by Frederick Lonsdale, with additional interpolated songs by Howard Talbot, Paul Rubens, Jerome Kern and James W. Tate. This revised version was then adopted for all subsequent Australian revivals staged by JCW Ltd. The 1935 Melbourne revival starring Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott opened at His Majesty’s Theatre on 23 February and ran through to 7 March with a further extension at the King’s Theatre from 8 to 13 March. (Character actor, Field Fisher reprised his original role of ‘Dr. Robert Thorne’ from the 1915 Australian production, in which Madge had also featured in the dancing ensemble.)

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His Majesty’s
A COMEDY OF ERRORS
‘High Jinks’ With Some Additions

‘High Jinks’ is an evergreen among musical comedies. With a little judicious pruning here and a new song there its high-spirited nonsense dates no more to-day than a similar production of a year ago. It is only in comparison with the more urbane musical play of recent years that the time-worn conventions of musical comedy appear a little hollow. ‘High Jinks’ is in the tradition which produced ‘The Quaker Girl,’ and is producing shows like ‘Roberta’ to-day. Twenty years have made no more difference than to introduce a few tom-tom rhythms into the music and a little more variety into the stage effects. Miss Madge Elliott and Mr Cyril Ritchard could hardly have chosen a more characteristic production or a more cheerful one for their farewell appearance and the audience was in no mood to find fault with this easily digestible fare.

In concocting his book Otto Harbach has not troubled unduly about originality or even credibility. His plot is a variation on the familiar theme of true love at cross purposes with an elaborate embroidery of farce to cover the threadbare patches.

Mr Ritchard has a grateful task as leading man but a more exacting one as producer. On the stage his breezy personality and beautiful dancing carry him through without difficulty but he has done some hard and efficient work behind the scenes. His arrangement of the ballets and dances is competent and resourceful, particularly in his curtains which are extremely neat, Miss Elliott’s singing and dancing are as graceful as ever. She is at her best in the Bubble Song one of the original numbers from Friml’s score which has worn well. Her pas de deux with Mr Ritchard are the highlights of the production but they have to compete with the efforts of an army of boisterously energetic comedians. Miss Marie Le Varre and Mr Leo Franklyn have a field day and they seem to enjoy it thoroughly. Miss Le Varre’s  burlesque comic methods are well known but Mr Franklyn as the roguish Colonel Slaughter has an opportunity to do something a little outside his familiar routine. He does it very resourcefully giving a touch of originality even to the role of stage drunkard. Miss Ethel Morrison and Mr John Dobbie are in good form and it is pleasing to see Miss Jean Duncan and Mr Frank Leighton in less stereotyped parts than they are usually given.

Friml’s musical score is tuneful but too uniformly sentimental for contemporary tastes. As a spice for his flaccid rhythms a few hot numbers have been added. The negro rhythm of ‘Beat of My Heart’ is effective in this as in any settling but the ‘Heat Wave’ ballet would have surprised the authors of this conventionally jovial comedy.

Mr William Quintrell handles his ochestra and chorus with his customary dexterity.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.) Monday, 25 February 1935, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11017296

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‘HIGH JINKS’ REVIVED WITH CHARM
Cyril Ritchard Scores As Producer

‘HIGH JINKS’ (His Majesty’s): Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott dance in a revival.

Those charming people. Cyril Ritchard and Madge Elliott, delighted a most enthusiastic audience at His Majesty’s on Saturday night, in a revival of ‘High Jinks,’ produced by Mr Ritchard himself.

Its success was both a personal triumph for Mr Ritchard and for Miss Elliott, and a tribute to its chief dancer's ability as a producer. The ballets and the settings were excellent, and Mr Ritchard contrived to give a lightness and grace to a production which is not remarkable for either quality.

One goes to these revivals of musical comedy with mixed feelings. Such forms of entertainment, perhaps more than any other, are representative of their time. ‘High Jinks’ falls in the middle period, between the glamor of pre-war productions, now seen through the roseate mists of romance, and the well remembered sophistication of comparatively recent productions.

Perhaps a first thought on seeing ‘High Jinks’ once more is how much older we have grown since the war years. Much of this production has an ingenuousness that belongs to the dear dead days of ‘Charley's Aunt’—there is a funny perfume which sprinkled about makes quarrelsome people suddenly merry—and once or twice Mr Ritchard even indulges in an aside.

PRE-WISECRACK ERA

All this, including Mr Franklyn's red nose, belongs to the pre-wisecrack era. But at any rate it is a change, much of it is amusing and a good deal of it—thanks again to its principals—is charming.

The plot concerns one of those elaborate matrimonial mixups so popular with writers of farce when the conventions could be so much more easily shattered than they can now. Its setting at the French watering place, ‘Beauville,’ gives opportunity for some highly effective sets against which the ballet disports itself to advantage.

The dancing of Cyril Ritchard as the young man with the laughing perfume, and of Madge Elliott, as an actress with whom he falls in love, lends grace and distinction to the whole show. They are particularly charming in that very pleasant melody, ‘Love's Own Kiss,’ and on Saturday night they were recalled again and again.

Jean Duncan, too, does an attractive dance with Mr Ritchard, and the ballet gives excellent support.

The chief comedy success goes to Miss Marie Le Varre, as a runaway wife; and to Leo Franklyn, as Colonel Slaughter, an amorous and inebriated old dotard. 

Marie Le Varre’s song, ‘Heat Wave,’ which she puts over with tremendous gusto, was one of the hits of the show.

The cast is interesting, too, for the presence of Field Fisher, playing his original role of Dr. Thorne; and of the ample John Dobbie, who was welcomed to the company by Mr Ritchard on Saturday night.

‘High Jinks’ can be classed with the best revivals that Melbourne has seen.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 25 February 1935, p.17, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245433855

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HIGH JINKS.
Musical Comedy Revival at His Majesty’s.

Revivals of old musical comedies, like those of any other stage plays, are always in the nature of an experiment. Playgoers of an older generation, with their candid criticisms of the present, are only too ready to evade its difficulties by escaping into a simpler past. They are apt to say of musical comedy, as was said of Punch, that ‘it is not so good as it once was.’ To which the classic answer perpetually applies:—‘It never was.’ Yet the success of these excursions into the past history of musical comedy depends, in the last resort, upon the quality of the acting and the general production. Judged by these standards, Mr. Cyril Ritchard’s revival of High Jinks at His Majesty’s Theatre on Saturday proves that even an old favorite, well mounted and suitably amended for a more swiftly moving age, is always good for the laugh and that measure of public support which more than justifies the hopes of the producer.

This play, in its main essentials, hangs on a slender thread of plot, which strings together a series of amusing episodes. Without being too precisely ‘dated,’ except for one or two lilting tunes that were on the lips of thousands of soldiers in the early months of the Great War, it contains other internal evidence that it was written some time ago. Much of its humor is derived from the familiar old device of the misunderstood situation. It is a veritable musical comedy of errors, in which Mrs So-and-So is continually being mistaken for being someone else's wife, and may acquire or disown a husband or even a grown-up daughter at the briefest possible notice. Such at least is the make-up of the slender plot revolving around Dr. Thorne's consulting room for his wealthy and not-so-wealthy patients, and Mr. Ritchard, the producer, can claim the satisfaction of knowing that despite the many thread-worn gags and devices, his exploitation of the material at his command provided an attractive performance. With the aid of additional lyrics by Rubens, Kern and others, the play moved from a somewhat slow first act into a livelier tempo in the second, amidst the seaside atmosphere of the beach hotel, Mr. Rltchard bore the lion's share in his dual role of producer and the sentimental Dick Wayne. Together with Madge Elliott he sang and danced his way through the play, while Field Fisher, as the Yankee doctor, wore a well-assumed air of professional dignity which saved the whole thing from developing into continual uproarious farce.

A humorous and massive pair, who almost ‘stole the show’ were Marie Le Varre, as the runaway wife, and John Dobbie, the heavy-weight lumber king, in their duet Come Hither, and the large audience marked its approval at Miss Le Varre’s coquettish aping of what she was pleased to call the ‘debutante slouch.’

Leo Franklyn, playing the choleric and bibulous Colonel Slaughter, of incandescent nose, was not quite so satisfyingly funny as in his recent performances. Frank Leighton achieved a characteristic impersonation of the irascible French man, and was alive to its comic possibilities, and Jean Duncan’s Mademoiselle Chi-Chi was equally in character.

Miss Madge Eliiott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard are now making their farewell appearances in Melbourne in High Jinks. There will be a matinee on Wednesday.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 25 February 1935, p.10, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205862734

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  1. A modification to Madge and Cyril’s plans ensued after the publication of the final instalment of her newspaper memoirs, as reported in the daily press at the time:

MADGE ELLIOTT’S WEDDING.

SYDNEY, Friday.—A complete change of their arrangements has been made by Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, who have now decided to return to Sydney after their Perth season. Their wedding will take place on 16th September. Re-joining their company, the couple will sail for New Zealand with a repertoire of Roberta, High Jinks, The Quaker Girl and Our Miss Gibbs. The change of plans is due to the decision that while on their way to Honolulu, New Zealanders should be afforded an opportunity to wish the couple a happy future.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 17 August 1935, p.17, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article203978147

  1. The mooted plans by JCW Ltd. and the role that Cyril Ritchard was to play in them, were outlined in the following newspaper article published in January 1935:

Stage & Screen
(Conducted by ‘Player’)
Cyril Ritchard to Produce In London

Plans are rapidly developing for the production of dramatic and musical plays on the London stage by J.C. Williamson Ltd., and the London syndicate with which it is associated.

Cyril Ritchard, who was responsible for the entire production of ‘Roberta’ at His Majesty's, has been asked to stage musical shows.

One or two other producers will be engaged to put on dramatic works.40. Cyril caricature

If they have sufficient inducement, J.C. Williamson Ltd. and the syndicate intend to present shows regularly in London. Different stages will be used in accordance with production requirements. The Firm has occupied several London theatres in past years. It had a great success with ‘Mr Cinders,’ which was produced in 1929, and ran for 528 performances. Minnie Everett produced ‘High Jinks’ for J.C. Williamson Ltd., at the Adelphi during the war period, and it ran for 383 performances.

‘ROBERTA’ is the last piece in which Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard will be seen before they marry and leave Australia.

Mr Ritchard said today that while his headquarters would be in London, he would like to return to Australia occasionally and put on one or two pieces for the Firm.

The actor-producer thinks that there are great possibilities in London for an established organisation like J.C. Williamson Ltd., and he says that much of a production could be brought here after a London run. A play may also be presented in Australia before it is taken to London.

Mr Ritchard thinks that production costs will be considerably reduced by a new London company which designs costumes and undertakes the dressing of a show. This organisation was formed by his brother, Edgar, who designed two of the costumes worn by Madge Elliott in ‘Roberta.’

While he intends to devote much time to production in future, Mr Ritchard does not intend to abandon his acting career. This week Laddie Cliff cabled a request that Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard should join up again with him, and Stanley Lupino and Phyllis Monkman. These five performers were associated in a number of London successes covering a period of five years.

Max Gordon, who presented ‘Roberta’ at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York, has also expressed the wish to have Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard in his service. They will visit America on their way to London, and discuss the future position with him.

The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Saturday, 5 January 1935, p.24, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245436944

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In the event, however, none of the reported future plans came to fruition. JCW Ltd.’s theatrical activities remained confined to Australia and New Zealand and the company made no further forays onto the London stage (after its previous venture to do so in 1929, at the instigation of then co-managing director, Sir George Tallis, was subsequently curtailed with the onset of the Depression making it economically unviable to continue at the time.)

Despite the critical acclaim that Cyril Ritchard had received in Australia for his sole direction of the productions of both Roberta and High Jinks, it would be some years before he would again be given the opportunity to do so in London with The New Ambassadors Revue staged at the Ambassadors Theatre in 1941 (co-starring Madge) and the 1943 revival of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, which he co-directed with William Mollison, and co-starred as ‘Danilo’ opposite Madge in the title role. In the immediate future, Madge and Cyril resumed their joint careers on the London stage (with occasional return visits to the British film studios by Cyril.) The American theatre would have to wait until the post-war years of the 1940s and it would be just over a decade before they performed in Australia again with their tour of the one-act plays of Noel Coward (Ways and Means, Family Album and Shadow Play) in 1946 (originally written by Coward for himself and Gertrude Lawrence to perform under the collective title of To-night at 8.30 in 1936.)

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Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard’s 1934–35 Australasian Tour schedule:

  • Sydney—Gay Divorce—Theatre Royal from 28 July to 12 September followed by Blue Mountain Melody from 15 September to 26 October 1934
  • Melbourne—Blue Mountain Melody—His Majesty’s Theatre from 3 November to 21 December; followed by Roberta from 22 December 1934 to 22 February 1935; followed by a revival of High Jinks from 23 February to 7 March, which then transferred to the King’s Theatre on 8 March and played through to 13 March 1935.
  • Sydney—Roberta—Theatre Royal from 16 March to 17 May followed by High Jinks from 18 May to 3 July 1935
  • Brisbane—Roberta—His Majesty’s Theatre from 6 to 19 July followed by High Jinks from 20 to 23 July 1935
  • Adelaide—Roberta—Theatre Royal from 27 July to 3 August; followed by High Jinks from 5 to 8 August 1935
  • Perth—Roberta—His Majesty’s Theatre from 12 to 17 August; followed by Blue Roses* from 19 to 24 August; followed by High Jinks from 26 August to 2 September 1935

New Zealand tour

  • Auckland—Roberta—His Majesty’s Theatre from 2 to 9 October followed by High Jinks from 10 to 14 October followed by Our Miss Gibbs from 15 to 19 October 1935
  • New Plymouth—Roberta—Theatre Royal on 21 October
  • Wanganui—Roberta—Opera House on 22 October
  • Palmerston North—Roberta—Opera House on 23 October
  • Hastings—Roberta—Princess Theatre on 24 October
  • Masterson—Roberta—Regent Theatre on 25 October
  • Wellington—Roberta—Grand Opera House from 26 to 30 October 1935 followed by Our Miss Gibbs from 2 to 6 November followed by High Jinks from 7 to 9 November
  • Christchurch—Roberta—Theatre Royal from 11 to 15 November followed by Our Miss Gibbs on 16, 18 & 20 November (matinee) followed by High Jinks on 19 & 20 November (evening) 1935
  • Greymouth—Roberta—Regent Theatre on 21 November
  • Timaru—Roberta—Theatre Royal on 23 November and High Jinks on 25 November
  • Auckland—Roberta—His Majesty’s Theatre from 26 to 30 November followed by Our Miss Gibbs on 2 & 4 December (matinee) followed by High Jinks on 3 & 4 December (evening) 1935

* As Perth was not included in Madge and Cyril’s 1932–33 Australian tour schedule, Blue Roses was remounted specifically for the season in the West Australian capital (under Cyril’s direction).  

MUSICAL COMEDIES
THREE SHOWS FOR PERTH.
Subtleties of ‘Roberta.’

KALGOORLIE, Aug. 11.—Although they would not admit preference for anyone of the three musical comedy productions, ‘Roberta’, ‘Blue Roses’ and ‘High Jinks,’ members of the J.C. Williamson Company which will commence a three weeks’ season in Perth tomorrow night showed partiality for ‘Roberta’ in the course of interviews today while passing through Kalgoorlie by the Great Western express. Mr. Cyril Ritchard, who besides playing leading parts in the three pieces will also be responsible for their production, said that ‘Roberta’ was essentially modern if not futuristic in its motif.

41. Roberta gown‘For a start,’ he said, ‘we have done away with the footlights in “Roberta.” Footlights were originally intended to eliminate shadows but in “Roberta,” which is subtle, we want the shadows. Most of the lighting will be from front of the stage, instead of from the stage itself. Everything about “Roberta” is subtle, and the audience will have to keep very wide awake not to miss anything in the dialogue. A good many people fail to appreciate the full significance of the comedy the first time they see it, and consequently they come again—which is good business for us. One of the departures from the conventional in “Roberta” is the way in which the composer of the songs, Jerome Kern, has made the melodies subservient and at the same time contributory to the story—similar, if you like to take a classic example, to Puccini. Kern (who, by the way, has composed many well-known stage pieces, including “Sally,” “Show Boat” and “Spring Time” [sic]) has balanced dialogue and song in his production by refraining throughout from “plugging” any particular number. Consequently, instead of there being one outstanding song repeated throughout the performance, there are at least seven big song-hits, none of which recurs after its first playing. Kern, in a word, has succeeded in illustrating the story with his music.’

Questioned about the comedy, Mr. Ritchard replied: ‘I am afraid the comedy is, at any rate, rather broad. We shall have to tone it down with our shadows.’

At this stage Mr. Ritchard was joined by Miss Madge Elliott, the other principal, who had been resting after the long train journey. She and Mr. Ritchard will be married in Sydney on September 16. ‘We wanted the wedding to be a quiet affair,’ Mr. Ritchard explained, ‘but it is fast getting beyond us. It is much worse than a new production.’

Mr. Ritchard has not played in Perth since he appeared in ‘Going Up.’ ‘The exact date of my appearance in your beautiful city I don't propose to recall,’ he said, ‘because I refuse to go back past 1924. Miss Elliott has also played in Perth, 'but she refuses to go further back than 1928.’ At this Miss Elliott smiled sweetly.

Mr. Claud Kingston, the manager of the company, said that it was being sent to Perth complete, as it appeared in Melbourne and the shows would be produced with the full Melbourne and Sydney mountings. ‘We have brought some leaders with us,’ he added, ‘but the orchestra will consist chiefly of West Australian musicians. Mr. Leo Packer, who will conduct, has had a rapid rise. “The Firm” discovered him three years ago, and he was sent to Perth to conduct the last Gilbert and Sullivan season, which he did so successfully that he toured South Africa with the company for eight months. Following this he went to London, and he is now regarded as one of our leading conductors.’

‘Roberta’ will be played commencing from tomorrow night to Saturday, August 17. ‘Blue Roses’ will follow from August 19 to 24, and ‘High Jinks’ from August 28 to 31. There will be matinees on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.

The West Australian (Perth, WA), Monday, 12 August 1935, p.3, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32906345

N.B. A stage musical entitled Spring Time was not included amongst Jerome Kern’s works, however the RKO movie musical, Swing Time (with lyrics by Dorothy Fields) starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, was released the following year in 1936.

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Postscript—The Wedding

MADGE ELLIOTT ENGAGED
Musical Comedy Dancer’s Romance

Sydney, October 1

News of the engagement of Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard, the principals of the musical comedy, ‘Blue Mountain Melody,’ now showing at the Theatre Royal, leaked out during the interval at to-day’s matinee performance, and members of the company showered congratulations on them. The secret of the engagement had been kept since last June.

The ring was purchased at Ogden’s before the dancers left London in June, and, by coincidence, it is almost a replica of the one chosen by Princess Marina on her engagement to Prince George. A beautiful sapphire is set on baguette cut diamond shoulders. Blue is Miss Elliott’s favourite colour.

WEDDING IN SYDNEY.

Miss Elliott said they did not intend to be married until their present contract ended. The wedding would probably be celebrated in Sydney, and the honeymoon spent In Honolulu.

The engagement is the culmination of probably the longest and most successful partnership in the history of the Australian stage. Miss Elliott met Mr. Ritchard when she was a raw recruit in the chorus, and they first danced together in ‘Going Up.’ Since then, except for a year when Mr. Ritchard was in America, they have never acted apart. Miss Elliott has no intention of giving up her stage career.

Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), Tuesday, 2 October 1934, p.13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35620260

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HER RELIGION
Miss Madge Elliott Indignant

‘Our romance has not been a sudden one. We are to be married, but when and where I cannot tell you yet. Time and place are only something that the immediate future can decide.’

Bare-legged, in black shorts and glowing with the exertion of a rehearsal in ‘High Jinks,’ which is to follow ‘Roberta,’ the golden-haired JCW star voiced her great indignation against published misrepresentation in the things which are most intimate and personal.

‘I am a Protestant and my people are Protestants,’ said Miss Elliott. ‘I shall remain a member of the Church in which I was confirmed. I am marrying Cyril and not a religion, and he is marrying me and not Protestantism.

‘We have a complete understanding in these things, which, after all, are so essentially personal. It is purely a matter of concern to our two selves, and it is ridiculous and most unfair and hurtful that such unfounded rumors should be published and circulated.

‘It is possible,’ Miss Elliott proceeded, ‘that our wedding will be celebrated in St. Mary's Basilica, Sydney. It would please Cyril; but it is ridiculous to suggest that I am about to “begin a course of religious instruction there,” as the newspaper put it, “so that the wedding may be celebrated with proper solemnity by the Cathedral authorities.” Ridiculous!’

SOME TIME IN JULY

‘I cannot give you the date. It will probably be towards the end of July—the 22nd or 23rd perhaps—but every thing will be dependent upon the season of “High Jinks.”

‘If the show ends before July 23 we will almost certainly sail by the Monterey on our honeymoon, which will be spent at Honolulu. Afterwards we will go on to the States and thence to London under engagement, which will mean that we shall be away from Australia for a considerable time.

‘But what we are both looking forward to is a long, long, happy, carefree holiday, which I feel both of us have thoroughly deserved.

‘Neither of us wants a big wedding. Just a family affair would have suited perfectly. But you know what friends are. They are insisting upon the right to throw confetti and lucky horseshoes.’

Truth (Sydney, NSW), Sunday 19 May 1935, p.23, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169351133

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WEDDING GOWN
Madge Elliott Is Indignant
‘IT’S A PRESENT’

Miss Madge Elliott, who is to marry Mr. Cyril Ritchard is being given much publicity lately of a distasteful nature.

A few weeks ago ‘Smith’s Weekly’ changed her religion overnight, and last week the same journal ‘placed’ Miss Elliott on the front page and suggested that, ignoring local talent, she had gone overseas to spend £450 on an elaborate wedding frock.

‘The whole concocted story is contemptible, fantastic and ridiculous,’ Miss Elliott told ‘Truth’ yesterday.

‘No one from the paper saw me or phoned me to verify the story that was printed. They just say these things without bothering to check the facts. I know about them first when I see the bill boards.

‘The gown in question is a personal gift from Peter Russell to myself. It will not cost me a penny except, perhaps the duty. Behind this wonderful wedding gift is a great deal of sentiment. Peter, who has been designing my frocks for years, has always said that he wanted to be personally responsible for my bridal gown.

GESTURE OF FRIENDSHIP

‘When Cyril and I became engaged, we cabled the news to Peter, who for a long time has known just what were our feelings. This wonderful present is his gesture of a friendship that has existed for a very long time.

‘Even if a similar gown was made here, the material would require to be imported. But it would be absurd to think that I could afford to pay so much as is suggested. Why, even if I was made of money I would hesitate to order anything so beautiful, elaborate and expensive.

‘Actually I have no idea what the cost of the dress will be. I only know that Peter has advised that he will design, build and present it to me.

‘Not for one moment would I suggest that designers here could not produce wonderful frocks. But Peter understands me and my requirements in the matter of gowns better than any other. And he is a close personal friend.

‘It does seem that someone is endeavoring to prejudice me or make me ridiculous in the eyes of the public and my friends for reasons that I shall not attempt to fathom.

‘It is so paltry, but it is so upsetting, too.

‘Peculiarly enough, I know nothing about these things until I see them in type. I can only dread what awful thing they may say next.’

Truth (Sydney, NSW), Sunday 9 June 1935, p.14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169340555

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OLD FRIENDS
‘The Exquisite Eight’

Two life long friends who made their first appearances together as dancers at the beginning of their theatrical careers—Miss Madge Elliott and Miss Winnie Tate—will again appear together when Miss Tate acts as chief attendant to Miss Elliott at her marriage with Mr. Cyril Ritchard at St. Mary’s Basilica on September 16. They were members of the J.C. Williamson ‘Exquisite Eight’ ballet.

Other members of this ballet include Miss Beryl Ferguson, now Mrs. H. Cade, of Melbourne, and Miss Mona Ferguson, who married Mr. Will Hay three months ago, and who is at present in Egypt. She is on a world tour and is full of regrets at not being home in time for the wedding.

The only other member of the ‘Exquisite Eight’ who will be present besides Miss Tate is Gwen Withers, who married Mr. Bull, a Melbourne dentist. Miss Dolly Nepean now lives in Canada. Miss Ida Lacey has taken up nursing, on which she was very keen even in her early theatrical days. ‘They are all as charming as ever, and would be welcomed back on the stage at any time,’ said Mr. Ritchard to-day. He remarked that he and Miss Elliott had lunched with Tessie Magner a week ago in Perth, where she has a school of dancing.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Monday, 9 September 1935, p.14, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231182267

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WeddingMagazine coverage of Madge’s wedding plans. Australian Woman’s Mirror (Syd.), Vol. 11, No. 42, 10 September 1935.

POPULAR COUPLE
Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard Married

SYDNEY, Monday.

Shafts of spring sunshine filtered through the beautiful windows of St. Mary’s Basilica this afternoon and provided a fitting setting for the marriage of Australia’s popular theatrical couple, Miss Madge Elliott and Mr. Cyril Ritchard.

The wedding caused remarkable interest and thousands of people, many of whom had arrived at an early hour, assembled in front of the Basilica and in Hyde Park opposite.

Not since the wedding of the Italian opera singer, Toti Dal Monte, in Sydney a few years ago, has a crowd been present for a wedding ceremony at the Basilica.

Anticipating large crowds the traffic authorities took the precaution of having barricades erected along College-street, while more than 50 police were specially detailed to see that there was no interruption with the arrival and departure of the couple.

There were exclamations of enthusiasm when Miss Elliott arrived. Her wedding gown, gleaming in the sunlight, was so beautiful that it caused gasps of amazement.

44. Bride fatherThe arrival of Madge and her father, Dr. N.P. Elliott, at the Basilica, with assembled crowds in the background. Cyril Ritchard Wedding Album, National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Every seat and all vantage points in the Basilica were occupied hours before the ceremony began. Those unable to see the bridal party entering excitedly jumped on to the seats and clambered half way up the parapet of the stone pulpit.

After the ceremony had been performed, a broadcast announcement was made requesting the people to desist from again breaking the rules of the Catholic Church. While, as the couple walked towards the exit, ushers waved the crowd down. Their efforts were in vain however, for hundreds of excited women could not be so easily restrained from gaining a view of the popular couple.

A strong wind blowing across the front of the Basilica caused trouble to the bridal party as they emerged from the door. The bride’s veil was lifted high in the air, and only sudden action on the part of the bridegroom prevented it from being blown from her head. Her gown, with its flowing train of lace was lifted from the ground and whirled around her body.

45. Groom bride 1Cyril Ritchard Wedding Album, National Library of Australia, Canberra.

It was some minutes before the cameramen had concluded their photographing of the couple, after which they slowly descended the steps with the diminutive attendants holding the train and the veil well clear of the ground.

The high wind caused similar trouble to the matron of honour and the bridesmaid, but they reached the cars without mishap. To prevent the over-enthusiastic crowd from bursting into the open in a wild rush to see the party depart, the police had to forcibly hold the crowd in the Basilica. Immediately the cars had left the people were released, many voicing their disapproval of the police action. 

The Bridal Gown Cost £400

Hundreds of wonderful dresses have been worn by Miss Elliott during her theatrical career, but to-day she wore a gown of which brides-to-be dream of, but rarely acquire. Designed by Peter Russell, one of London's leading designers, and a personal friend of the couple, the exquisite gown cost £400. Since its arrival in Sydney some weeks ago, the gown has been altered slightly, and so delicately cut that it fitted Miss Elliott to perfection.

Of ivory taffeta foundation, the gown was on close-fitting lines. Stiffened net fell over the foundation, while 39 yards of waxed lace were super-imposed, moulding the dress to the tops of Miss Elliott’s toes. Her train, also of a waxed lace, was four yards long. Puffed sleeves, with a wide fold of lace across the shoulders, and a tulle veil, tinted to match the gown, and a true lovers’ knot in blue stitched to the underside of the train, went to add to the beauty of the gown.

Matching perfectly were the ivory court shoes with pearl clips at the side. Miss Elliott completed the ensemble with a sheaf of lilies.

The wedding ring, which was placed on Miss Elliott’s finger in the Archbishop's Private Chapel, was made of platinum and tastefully adorned with sprays of orange buds.

Miss Elliott’s Attendants

Unusual design was a feature of the frocks worn by the bride’s attendants. Mrs. Ian Sargood, of Melbourne, acted as matron of honour, and Miss Winnie Tate was bridesmaid. Made of chiffon, the frocks were shadow patterned and held two trains in place. Delphinium blue was used as a base, while lying softly on top, was a layer of chiffon in the palest of blue shades. Cut on classical lines, the frocks were full skirted and fell into long trains, one being cut from the frock and the other attached at the waist. Long, tight-fitting sleeves and haloes of blue pearls held in place a sari veil, which twined its way around the arms and fell to the ground. Blue shoes were worn. The attendants carried ivory prayer books, through each of which a long sheaf of orchids trailed to the skirt hems.

Miss Elliott’s two little nieces, Madge and Margot Curtis-Elliott, who acted as trainbearers, were gowned in pale blue velvet, closely cut with a short bodice, and falling into little trains. Pearls and blue forget-me-nots held the sari veils in place.

The pages, John and Peter Goldrick, were in costumes of the same material.

Mr. Gregory Ritchard was best man for his brother, and the groomsman was Mr. Harry Wootton, Professor of Singing at the Conservatorium of Music, Adelaide.

The gift of the bridegroom to the bride was a beautiful diamond and sapphire brooch, worn with two clips and convertible into a dress clasp. A flat gold cigarette case was given to Mr. Ritchard by his bride. The bridegroom's gifts to the matron of honour and to the bridesmaid were square ivory flapjacks, with lapis lazuli stones in the centre. Little Madge and Margot were presented with hand-beaded bags in pastel tones.

The reception was held at Elizabeth Bay House, where a large crowd had assembled to watch the departure of Miss Elliott for the Basilica and the return of the bridal party and arrival of the guests following the ceremony.

Newcastle Morning Herald And Miners’ Advocate (NSW), Tuesday, 17 September 1935, p.3, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page10104095

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A Fairy-Tale Bride
Elliott-Ritchard Wedding

SINCE you were just a long-legged girl in your ‘teens you have conjured mental pictures of a bride, haven’t you? The ideal bride, with billows of foamy tulle, an exquisite frock of foamy lace and golden curls and blue eyes?

Down the winding staircase of Elizabeth Bay House yesterday, its historic setting forming a perfect background, walked the bride of your dreams. It was Madge Elliott, acclaimed of audiences on both sides of the world, and the only daughter of Dr. and Mrs. N.P. Elliott, of Randwick.

Cyril Ritchard, the partner of her world-wide success, arrived, a punctilious and immaculately-clad bridegroom, at St. Mary’s Basilica some 10 minutes before the bride, accompanied by his brother, Mr. Gregory Trimnell-Ritchard, who was best man, and Mr. Harry Wotton, of Adelaide, groomsman.

Two thousand white tickets admitted an eager throng to the sides of the cathedral, 300 blue tickets were the ‘open sesame’ to the guests' seats, and 50 pink tickets paved the way for relatives and intimate friends to the sacristy, where the ceremony was performed.

The arrival of the bridegroom was the signal for general restlessness. The eager throng climbed on seats, hassocks, rails, took advantage of every possible vantage point. Perhaps the bridegroom was a little paler than is his wont, but he strode unfalteringly down the aisle and disappeared from view.

Harry Wotton’s singing of ‘Where'er You Walk’ provided a breathing space, in which the crowd reverted to normal again.

Then Renee Murphy, a slim figure in duck-egg green, came hastily down the aisle, murmured a word in Jerry Bannister’s ear, and both made for the entrance. The wind, it transpired, was taking liberties with Madge’s train and veil, and debonair Jerry, who has officiated at more ceremonies than he can remember, either as best man or usher, lent an experienced hand.

Enthusiasm ran high. The crowd climbed again. There was a burst of clapping, quickly suppressed by officials, and Madge Elliott walked slowly down the aisle with her father. The tulle that fell softly from a coronet of pearls hid an almost shy smile, while her father stepped proudly, his bearing reminiscent of the old French regime.

The exquisite lace frock designed and sent from London by the famous couturier, Peter Russell, clung to her slender figure over a taffeta sheath foundation, on which a blue bow added the requisite concession to sentiment. The new halo collar finished the neck, which almost revealed the white shoulders of the bride.

An Adorable Trio

Then, attached to the train, an adorable trio. Margot, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Curtis Elliott, and niece of the bride, Peter and John Brian Goldrick. each clad in jubilee blue cut in the Empire vogue. Eleven year-old Madge, sister of Margot, followed with stately step, and both the tiny girl and her big sister wore saris of georgette to tone with their velvet frocks, falling from wreaths of forget-me-not.

Winnie Tate, statuesque in a gown and sari on a larger scale than that of the youthful bridesmaids, and Mrs. Ian Sargood, from Melbourne, a dainty figure, completed the bridal procession.

The strains of the Wedding March from ‘Lohengrin’ stole from the organ somewhere behind the crowd, and the entourage made its way round the altar.

Father W.J. Herlihy read the marriage ceremony, his voice carried by loud speakers to every corner of the vast Cathedral. Then, as the crowd started to murmur again, Miss Leonora Gotsch's voice rose in the strains of ‘Ave Maria,’ and once more there was silence.

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March filled the church with melody, and the radiant bride and bridegroom retraced their steps down the aisle together, hailed by friends from every pew as they passed and acclaimed again by the crowd of onlookers.

Elizabeth Bay House and the reception. More crowds, lining the approach, watching every car. Ready to cheer at the slightest thing. But the bridal procession was completely lost to sight in the spacious, flower-decked reception-room.

Interest in the arrival of the guests waned, and the crowd became importunate. A harassed sergeant of police found a solution. The bridal couple, at his request, came out to the verandah, and Madge waved a tremulous hand.

Cheers—‘Madge’— cheers—spontaneous greetings that must have echoed to the harbor’s edge and beyond, rose from long lines of spectators.

Every door of Elizabeth Bay House was thrown open, and guests entered from the entrance porch to a drawing-room beyond to express their felicitations to Dr. and Mrs. Elliott, to Mr. and Mrs. Trimnell-Ritchard—and to Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Ritchard.

A three-tiered wedding cake graced the table, to which the bridal party adjourned, and a buffet supper and a generous supply of champagne awaited the guests.

The toast list was short and quite informal, culminating in a veritable barrage of photographers for the lovely bride, her eyes black with the excitement of the day.

At six o’clock the strains of ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ floated upstairs—faces turned upwards, and round the old staircase drifted a vision in mignonette green—a three-piece suit with summer ermine cuffs, and breton sailor of the same shade. Side by side, she and Cyril came slowly down—before she reached the foot she tossed her arum lily bouquet—a slight scramble, and Dr. Dora McMahon held it triumphantly aloft.

Then two violinists stepped into the cleared pathway to the door and preceded Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Ritchard, playing ‘Yip I addy I ay,’ which everyone sang.

Madge was lifted shoulder high and carried to her car, and her bridegroom suffered the same fate.

The car moved slowly off. Guests drifted back to the house to collect their wraps. The crowd, which had waited outside since midday, faded into the evening mists.

The Telegraph, Tuesday, 17 September 1935, p.5, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page27088479

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Cinesound–Movietone newsreel footage of the wedding

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TO N.Z.
RITCHARDS SAIL
MADGE’S THANKS
‘WONDERFUL DAY’

With a great bunch of golden daffodils and purple stock in her arms, her brown-clad figure silhouetted against the white rails of the verandah suite, Madge Elliott, now Mrs Ritchard, waved farewell to Sydney from the Monterey to-day.

Her husband tried his skill at throwing streamers into the wind, so that they would be blown back to where his nephews stood on the wharf, straining to catch a last glimpse of him.

‘Please say we were both very much moved by the wonderful day our Sydney friends gave us on Monday—our wedding day,’ Mrs. Rltchard said.

‘We do feel that we belong here. Give them all my love, and say that we hope we will be back soon to see them.’

Their suite was a bower of flowers by the time the boat left, and every few minutes baskets and boxes of beautiful spring blooms arrived.

Members of the-wedding party, Dr. and Mrs. N.P. Elliott, the bride's parents, and Mrs. Trimnell Ritchard were present.

‘Pink Lady’ Days

Scores of their friends gathered below their ‘verandah,’ and all over the wharf could be heard murmurs of ‘There they are.’ ‘Doesn't she look sweet?’ Hundreds of greetings were shouted to the favorites.

Mr. Pirie Bush kept up a running fire of remarks. Mr. Phil Smith recalled the days of ‘Pink Lady’ when Minnie Hooper, who was also on the wharf, was ballet mistress, and bullied Cyril unmercifully.

‘But they never forget their old friends,’ said Mr. Smith, vainly endeavoring to hold a yellow streamer that Cyril had thrown.

The ship commenced to move—there was a chorus of farewells, a cry of ‘Come back soon,’ and Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Ritchard had left Sydney for New Zealand, where they will tour the North Island before embarking on a two months’ season with the company.

Mrs. Ritchard’s cigar brown boucle cloth ensemble had a collar of beige fox, and she wore a brown felt tam beret, well back on her head.

The Sun (Sydney, NSW), Wednesday, 18 September 1935, p.13, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article231181718

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Following their honeymoon at Rotorua and their subsequent New Zealand tour for JCW, Madge and Cyril departed from Auckland on 17 December 1935 and arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii on Boxing day, 26 December. Following a holiday there, they embarked for San Francisco, where they arrived on 13 February 1936 and then on to Los Angeles, arriving on 15 February. A cross country railway trip took them to New York City, where they spent several months, before departing for England, where they arrived at Southampton on 19 June 1936, to resume their careers in Britain.

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Popular Players for America

Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, whose charm added so much to the appeal of ‘Roberta,’ ‘High Jinks,’ and ‘Our Miss Gibbs’ joined the Monterey at Auckland on Tuesday, on their way to America. They will break their voyage for three weeks at Honolulu to spend a holiday which will really be part of their honeymoon, since they have been working hard on the musical comedy tour just completed, almost ever since their marriage in Sydney three months ago. From Honolulu they will go to Santa Barbara, after first spending a short time in San Francisco. Then they will stay in New York where they intend to see the latest shows and note any interesting ideas in the theatrical world. It is their plan to return then to London where they were so successful in musical comedies up to the time of their departure for Australia about two years ago.

Waikato Times (N.Z.) Volume 118, Issue 19765, 21 December 1935, p.19 (Supplement)

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Additional picture references

Additional sources

  • Hugh Fordin, Getting to Know Him: A Biography of Oscar Hammerstein II [Ungar Pub. Co.: New York,1986]
  • Kurt Gänzl, The Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre [Schirmer Books: New York, 2001]
  • Peter Pinne & Peter Wyllie Johnston, The Australian MusicalFrom the Beginning [Allen & Unwin: Sydney, 2019]
  • J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1930–1939: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, [2nd ed.; Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, Maryland, 2014]
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