Of course the "Black Crook" drew. It always does, and the Lansing was pretty well filled from "bald-headed row" to gallery. Of course a spectacular play, when playing to one night stands, loses one of its chief attractions, the confusing number of dancers. No matter how far the imagination may stretch, eight will not take the place of eighty, and an army of a dozen amazons will not be imposing.
The chief attraction of the "Black Crook" lies perhaps in its alleged naughtiness. It is not really much worse than many other plays, but then as one expects it to be naughty one is apt to let one's imagination eke out any depth of wickedness. Then really some of the jokes were too obviously double headers. One could not fail to see them, especially when they were italicized by the applause of the gallery. To the pure all things may be pure, but if one wishes to see the "Black Crook" as a moral spectacle he must be a saint indeed. Any serious criticism on a play so familiar is uncalled for. A mixture of scenic effects, ballet, comic songs and specialties changes of course gradually in every part; but, like the boy's knife, it is supposed to be always the same. At any rate it goes under the old title.
With regard to the particular performers — one hesitates to call them actors — Mr. Mack as Greppo was about the best. His tricks like his "gags" were unexpected and brought laughter irresistible and explosive.
Blanche Henshaw made a very pretty and vivacious soubrette as Carline , though she did not quite outdo Lottie Collins , whom she evidently emulates. She is naughtier, amazingly so, but far less fascinating. Her Marguerite is quite unnecessarily vulgar and winks too much. Miss Henshaw, by the way, should take a hint from a certain popular song and should not always wink with the right eye.
As to the dancing, some of the girls were pretty and several were very far from pretty. One or two did especially good work in the skirt dance. Mlle. Adele Camis , the premiere danseuse, was sprightly rather than graceful. She did well, not so well, perhaps, however, as the little Liska , who gave the audience only one thing to regret, that a child of her age should dance at all.
The Black Crook: Often called the first American musical, The Black Crook opened at Niblo's Garden in New York in September 1866. It was the most expensive production of its day (sources give figures from $25,000 to $50,000), the most successful (it ran for over a year and earned over $1,000,000), and the most scandalous (for its scantily-clad chorus of a hundred French ballet girls). The Black Crook began as a melodrama by Charles Barras (1826-1873) about a crook-backed practitioner of black magic, Hertzog, who conspires with the demon Zamiel to steal the soul of the poor painter Rodolphe, who loves the beautiful foundling Aminta. When the theater in which a troupe of French ballerinas was to perform burned down, the managers offered the dancers, with their costumes and scenery, to William Wheatley, the producer of the Barras play. A libretto based on the play incorporated music, dances, and dazzling scenic effects; the show lasted for more than five hours.
The Black Crook had been revived eight times in New York, most recently at the Academy of Music from September 1, 1892 to May 20, 1894, when it ran for 306 performances and took in over $350,000. Agnes deMille choreographed a revival in 1929. Other companies revived it all over the country for the rest of the century, and it was made into a film in 1916.
The Black Crook in Lincoln in April 1894 was not that of the New York revival, which starred Morris Lipman, Charles Plunkett, Grace Tabor, and Louise Freeman.
Image of the Black Crook chorus available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
Lansing Theatre: The Lansing Theater, on the southwest corner of 13th and P Streets, was built in 1891, displacing the Funke Opera House as the largest and finest theater in Lincoln. The owners were J.F. Lansing (b. 1842), a Lincoln real estate man, and his brother-in-law Henry Oliver (b. 1857); Edward A. Church was the manager. According to the program of the opening week (November 23-28, 1891) the auditorium consisted of the orchestra and parquet seating on the main level, with dress circle at the rear and sides; three tiers of five boxes each and six loges were at the sides. Above were the balcony and the gallery. With standing room, about 2500 people could be present.
The building also housed offices, including that of Cather's friend and fellow reviewer, Dr. Julius H. Tyndale. It was renamed the Oliver Theater in 1898.
Mr. Mack: Possibly Andrew Mack, who appeared in vaudeville as well as in variety shows in New York in the early1890s, according to Odell (Annals of the New York Stage, XV). Another possibility is William F. Mack, who appeared in musical shows and with Russell's Comedians in New York, also in the early 1890s (Odell XV).
Carline: Carline is a saucy chambermaid in Barras's The Black Crook (1866); she was played by Millie Cavendish in the original production, and sang one of the hit songs, "You Naughty, Naughty Men," by Theodore Kennick and George Bickwell.
Lottie Collins: Lottie (Charlotte Louise) Collins (1866-1910) began her stage career in a skip-rope dance with her sisters in 1877. She had a minor role in Monte Cristo Junior, starring Fay Templeton, in 1886 at London's Gaiety Theatre, then toured as a solo variety act. On tour in New York, she heard the song, "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay" and made a smash hit with it in London in 1891, then brought it back to America in September 1892. She would pause after the first verse, then go into her cancan-like skirt dance, with high kicks that showed off the sparkling suspenders that held up her stockings. Collins starred in other shows, but her fame rested on "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay." She married three times; her daughter, Jose Collins (1887-1958), was also a popular singer and actress.
Marguerite: The character of Marguerite does not appear in early accounts of Barras's The Black Crook (1866); it may be a member of the chorus, or possibly a renaming of the other major female character, Stalacta, Queen of the Golden Realm.
a certain popular song and should not always wink with the right eye: This 1890 song, "Then You Wink the Other Eye" (words by W. T. Lytton, music by George Le Brunn), was British music hall singer Marie Lloyd's first big hit; the wink became her trademark gesture. Say, boys, whatever do you meanWhen you wink the other eye?Why, when you tell where you've been,Do you wink the other eye?You preach your wives such stories,You can tell them just a few-Just met an old acquaintance,Or the train was overdue.And when the simple wife believesThat every word is true,Then you wink the other eye