Hoyt's "Trip to Chinatown" was presented last night at the Lansing theatre. The house was crowded from orchestra to gallery, and long before the curtain rose an air of general merriment stole over the audience and every one began smiling at the mere anticipation of Hoyt.
It seems almost paradoxical to say that a play can be successful, and very successful which has neither plot nor purpose nor seriousness of any kind, and yet "A Trip to Chinatown" is certainly innocent of any and all of these and is a great, a howling success. Of course the success of the play is very largely due to the actors. It is a great thing to have seen the original Madison Square company , as those of us who saw it after having seen a second rate company in the same play can testify.
Harry Conor as Welland Strong gets very near the top notch of comedy. In his invalid state he was almost too much for us, heaven help us if he were in sound health! Of course Miss Boyd as the Widow was the great hit of the evening. As a rule fat women can't act, but the widow is just fat enough, if she loses or gains an ounce it will ruin her artistic reputation. She has the advantage of being exceedingly handsome, fair, fat, and — probably — forty, and then that smile and those irresistibly wicked eyes of hers. She seems to enjoy herself immensely on the stage, flirting and all, and naturally that adds to the enjoyment of the audience. The support was good, the danseuse seemed to capture the masculine portion of the audience and Harry Gilfoil's novel soda and shingle specialties were loudly applauded.
As to the play we have said almost everything when we say that it was Hoyt's. No other man on earth would dare to write such a play. It rests upon nothing but Mr. Hoyt's nerve and wit. It is one long series of delightful nothings and for the time being we like it every whit as well as if it were profound. No one cares a hang for dramatic art when he is pleased. Mr. Hoyt didn't care for it, either, apparently. If he had he would never have dared introduce a sort of musical interlude, forty minutes in length, in the middle of the second act. The whole play depends on the invalid's thermometer and the way the Widow winks her eye. Mr. Hoyt doesn't even have any trip to Chinatown occur. He is always promising things that he never does, and yet he promises so smoothly that we never mind at all that he is fooling us all the time. One can't say anything hard of him, for he stifles his critics with laughter and crushes their criticism with popular eavor. We all like Mr. Hoyt, because he dares to make dramas after his own heart and after the unclassical tastes of his countrymen and snap his fingers in the face of the high gods of art, because he is so complacent and nervy and so thoroughly American.
Willard Simms , who plays Kill von Kull , the original real estate agent, in The Kimball Opera Bouffe company's gorgeous burlesque "Hendrick Hudson," makes his first appearance by being thrown bodily from a second story window. This is supposed to occur at New Amsterdam—now New York—in 1609. Since that time many a real estate agent has had a hard, hard, tumble because he failed to "get in on the ground floor." Corinne comes to the Lansing theatre Monday and Tuesday, January 22 and 23.
Corse Payton and his merry company commence a week's engagement at Funke's opera house Monday, January 22, in the five-act society comedy drama "The Parisian Princess," Miss Etta Reed appearing in the title role, a part that enables her to display her ability as an actress, containing as it does the different moods of woman's nature, including love, devotion, hatred and revenge. Elegant stage settings and wardrobe are used in the production and the prices are only 10, 20 and 30 cents. Ladies are admitted free Monday night if accompanied by a paid 30 cent ticket purchased before 7 p.m.
Charles Hoyt: Charles Hoyt (1860-1900) was born in New Hampshire, moved west to a cattle ranch in Colorado, became a newspaperman, then wrote his first play and had it produced in 1883; he became one of the most successful producer-playwrights by the late 1880s, perfecting the style of Broadway musical in which a farcical, light-hearted plot gives opportunities for songs and specialty features.
A Trip to Chinatown: In Charles Hoyt's musical "A Trip to Chinatown", Mrs. Guyer, a widow from Chicago, comes to San Francisco and fosters romance among several young couples with the help of a rich man's lost wallet. The song, "The Bowery" (music by Percy Gaunt, words by Charles Hoyt), was one of the first big Broadway show tune hits. Later the song "After the Ball" was added; the two songs came to exemplify two dominant strains of the 1890s stage, the slightly naughty and the overtly sentimental. This was Charles Hoyt's biggest success. It toured the country for nearly a year before opening on Broadway in 1891, where it ran for a record-breaking 657 performances—a record that would not be broken for nearly thirty years. It toured the country for years after.
A 1912 musical, A Winsome Widow, was based on the play, and later commentators have seen many echoes of the plot in the mid-twentieth century hit, Hello, Dolly!
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.
Madison Square company: Charles Hoyt was co-owner of the Madison Square Theatre, where A Trip to Chinatown had its New York run. Judging by the three names Cather mentions, this was indeed the original cast on tour.
Harry Conor: Best known as an actor and comedian, Harry Conor was also a composer. When he appeared in Little Puck in 1890, the New York Times reviewer called him "a comic actor with a method of his own, who is likely to attract more notice in the future" (2 March 1890).
Welland Strong: Strong is described on the cast list as "a man with one foot in the grave." He is a hypochondriac who forgets his ills long enough to go out on the town with some young men; he sings the famous song, "The Bowery," recalling a visit to New York. Harry Conor played the role on Broadway.
Anna Boyd (d. 1916) appeared in several of Hoyt's productions in the late 1880s and early 1890s; perhaps her most famous and most successful role was as the Widow in Hoyt's A Trip to Chinatown (1892).
Of an earlier production, Zig Zag (1888), the New York Times reviewer said, "Of the ladies in the cast, Miss Anna Boyd is easily the premiere acrobat. Her dancing and her brick bat throwing are the essence of energy and accuracy, while her girlish simplicity is in an indirect ratio to her matronly development" (19 February 1889).
Boyd married actor Joe Coyne in 1898; they were divorced in 1909.
Fair, fat, and—probably—forty: Bartlett's Familiar Quotations attributes the description "fat, fair, and forty" to Sir Walter Scott's St. Ronan's Well, chapter 7. The version, 'fair, fat, and forty,' is the one almost always used.
Harry Gilfoil: Gilfoil played two roles in the Broadway production: Noah Heap, "waiter at the Riche restaurant," in which role he probably did the soda specialty (a dance or comedy routine); and that of Slavin Payne, a servant of the wealthy Ben Gay.
James O'Neill: James O'Neill (1849-1920 was born in Ireland and came to the U.S. as a child. He first appeared on the stage in Cincinnati in 1867, and soon was playing in stock companies in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. In 1882 he played Dantès in a stage version of The Count of Monte Cristo to immense popular success. Although he was also successful in Shakespearean and other historical roles, his public wanted to see him as Monte Cristo, and he played the role over 6,000 times over thirty years. Cather remembered him as one of the best Monte Cristos she had seen ("Willa Cather Mourns Old Opera House"). O'Neill was the father of playwright Eugene O'Neill, who portrayed his father as James Tyrone in A Long Day's Journey Into Night.
Edmond Dantes: Dantès, the hero of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, is a nineteen-year-old when he is falsely imprisoned for life in the notorious state prison, the Chateau d'If. There he befriends the Abbé Faria, who educates him and, dying, tells him of the treasure buried on the island of Monte Cristo. Dantès escapes, finds the treasure, and returns to Paris as the mysterious Count.
The Count of Monte Cristo: This novel by the elder Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), published in 1844, has had an immense and lasting celebrity, and has had various stage and film versions of it made. The plot concerns the betrayal and imprisonment of a young sailor, who escapes, finds treasure, and returns to France as the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo to seek vengeance on all who have betrayed him.
Willard Simms: Comedian Willard Simms (1864-1917) was born in Chicago; he toured the Midwest with his sister's troupe, the Louie Lord Dramatic Company, in the 1880s. After two years with Jennie Kimball's company as the leading comedian, he became leading comedian at the Casino in New York in mid-1895; he played Simple Simon in a production of Mother Goose (1899) and Lord Algy in An American Beauty before going into vaudeville.
Kimball Opera Bouffe company: This touring musical troupe, which used various names, such as the Kimball Opera Comique and Burlesque Company and the Kimball Opera Bouffe Company, was managed by Jennie Kimball. An item in the New York Dramatic Mirror noted that "Mrs. Kimball's enterprise is one of the very few that employs a special car for its scenery. The car she uses was built expressly for her, and is perhaps the most complete of its kind traveling" (24 December 1892, p. 73c).
Hendrick Hudson: Hendrick Hudson, a burlesque by William Gill and a collaborator, opened in New York August 18, 1890, at the 14th Street Theater, and starred Fay Templeton. A New York Times reviewer said of the plot: "The discoverer of the Hudson . . . went to Florida, discovered Christopher Columbus living in retirement there, and took him to New Amsterdam as the 'star attraction' of the World's Fair," and called it "a tedious and pointless burlesque play" (19 August 1890). A later mention said the play was "buried under a crushing weight of public disfavor" (28 October 1890).
Corinne: Corinne Kimball (1873-1937) used only her first name professionally. She had been a singing and dancing child star in her mother's company, the Kimball Opera Comique and Burlesque Company, and remained a popular touring star into the 1890s. One of her specialties was in "boy" roles, where, judging by surviving photographs, she wore tights rather than trousers: Edmond Dantes in Monte Cristo, Jr., a burlesque of The Count of Monte Cristo; Tom the Piper's Son in William Gill's burlesque Arcadia. Cather also refers to her as "Sweetie Corinne" and "Charming Corinne," epithets possibly used in Kimball's advertising.
Image available at the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections.
Corse Payton: Actor and manager Corse Payton (1866-1934) was born in Centerville, Iowa; he made his stage debut at the age of 16 in his family's company; his elder sister married Benjamin Spooner of the Spooner Family company. He organized his own company, Corse Payton's Comedy Company, in 1891 and toured the Midwest until taking his company east in 1895. An undated playbill that has been preserved notes that Payton "carries an entire [railroad] car load of Special Scenery, his own carpets, furniture, bric-a-brac." By 1900 he had his own popular theater, Corse Payton's Lee Avenue Theatre, in Brooklyn, NY, where his company performed two shows a day, with seats at 10, 20, and 30 cents each. Reputedly future stars such as Mary Pickford, Ed Wynn, and the Gish sisters served in his company at various times. Later he managed stock companies in Newark, NJ, and Jamaica, NY. He married Etta Reed, the leading lady of his company; after her death in 1915 he married another actress, Henrietta Brown (d. 1958).
The Funke: The Funke Opera House was built in 1885 by Fred Funke (d. 1890), a Lincoln wholesale cigar, wine, and liquor dealer, on the southwest corner of 12th and O St. Until the Lansing Theatre was built it was the largest and finest theater in town. The first manager was Ed A. Church (d. 1927), followed by Robert McReynolds; Frank Zehrung managed it briefly, from July 1889 to January 1890, when L. M. Crawford took over. Zehrung resumed management in 1894. The building housed shops on the ground floor and offices in parts of the upper floors, as well as the theater itself.
The Parisian Princess: The indexes to the New York Times drama reviews and Odell's Annals of the New York Stage do not list a play of this name, nor is it listed in WorldCat. However, it was still in the Corse Payton company's repertoire at the turn of the century.
Miss Etta Reed: Actress Etta Reed (1866-1915) was born in Ravenna, Ohio, a daughter of Gustavus and Caroline (Buck) Reed. She married Corse Payton and was the leading lady of the company. Once a week, after the matinee, Reed would host a tea, or reception, onstage, for the ladies and children of the audience, a practice that was soon copied by other popular companies. An undated playbill notes "Miss Reed, during the week, will wear sixty different dresses. Count them."