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FOOTLIGHT NOTES
no. 644

updated
Saturday, 16 January 2010

FOOTLIGHT NOTES
images of theatre and other popular entertainment
1850s-1920s

James Blakely, George Grossmith, Emmy Wehlen

a scene from George Grossmith and Edward Laurillard's production of To-Night's The Night,
first staged (after a trial at New Haven) at the Shubert Theatre, New York, 24 December 1914,
with, left to right, James Blakely as Montagu Lovitt-Lovitt, George Grossmith as Dudley Mitten and Emmy Wehlen as June

the piece ran at the Shubert until March 1915 after which, with various cast changes, it toured the United States;
meanwhile, Blakely, Grossmith and others returned to London, where
To-Night's the Night opened at the Gaiety Theatre on 28 April 1915,
when the part of June was played by Haidée de Rance (later replaced by Madge Saunders)

(photo: White, New York, 1914/15)

'There has been, inevitably, an influx of English actors and English plays. Six entire theatrical companies are said to have arrived in their entirely in New York. Charles Frohman announced the past week that he intended to close his duke of York's Theater in London and transplant the company to Chicago. Marie Lohr, Irene Vanbrugh and Godfrey Tearle will head the Chicago all-star company.
'George Grossmith, Jr., and Edward Laurillard intend bringing a company of 60 players, including a majority of the Gaiety favorites, to this country [a modernized version of] the old farce, 'Pink Dominoes. In the cast are Emmy Wehlen, Iris Hooey [sic], Max Dearly, Robert Nainby and Mr. Grossmith himself. They will sail for New York November 28.'
(The Evening Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Saturday, 21 November 1914, p. 12a/b)

To-Night's the Night, on tour in the United States, at the Lyric Theatre, Philadelphia
'Tonight's the Night is a drama from the English of Fred Thompson - as we Drama Leaguers put it about Ibsen. Anybody at the Lyric could tell it came from London by the flora, fauna and indehiscent polycarpellaries. When a stout gentleman, with a dreadnought wife says, ''What a pretty shape that house maid has. I mean what a pretty shape he has made the house''; when that fell remark is brazenly followed up by allusions to law cases and corkscrews; when a stony stare is described, with intent to kill, as a geological survey, then you may truly know that you are in the presence of English whit and 'humour.
'Those an ''med'cine'' and ''ridic'lous'' didn't settle the question of pedigree or pleasure for the audience at the Lyric last night, for you can suffer that sort of thing in any Frohman importation. The present specimen was redeemed, redeemed completely and gloriously, by a real London company, doing the piece just as it would have done it if Tonight's the Night had been produced at the Gaiety first instead of over here in America. The chorus proved it the minute it came on. It had a ladylike air about it. It breathed the refinement of duchesses in reduced circumstances. Probably that was because we are naturally too unused to the English girl to be able to detect subtle shadings. No doubt there are dozens of Englishmen who could say, ''That one isn't a lady,'' or ''This one will be some day.'' But that doesn't matter. There they were with their fresh complexions - fresh, but not from the rouge box - their softly curling flaxen hair, their gray-blue eyes, their gleaming teeth and their large, admirable noses. A languid chorus, maybe, that dawdled among while the music kicked up its heels and ran off. But a change for us! The second string wasn't so good, but what can you expect in one show? 'At any rate, you need not expect so many excellent principals. Lauri de Frece, a good-looking tenor-or-thereabouts with a sense of humor, capable of going punting on the sofa and flinging flowers to himself. Teddy Webb, playing the sort of fat uncle part James Blakely always does - and used to do in the present case. Wilfred Seagram, another of those good-looking young Englishmen, holding down, quite successfully, George Grossmith's shoes. Edward Nainby, as a grotesque in the style of George Graves. Maurice Farkoa, cooing his songs with all the art of a chamber recital. Davy Burnaby, polite comedian, and added feature.
'As for women - Ethel Baird, as an Iris Hoey: Allison Skipworth, as a matron of a decidedly subtle type, and Fay Compton, her delightful self, a beautiful women and also an artist in the subtleties that make ladies' maids ladies' maids, even if they are adored by sundry leading men.
'And outside all the list of the Allies, Emmy Wehlen, the Von Hindenburg, the Von Kluck, of Tonight's the Night, dashing from the eastern front to the west, sweeping down on Warsaw, plunging a new drive on Paris. Languid English girls are very nice, ever so much nicer than American tango fiends. But 'way for the lady from Germany!
'All of which forgets the plot and music. For the first, understand that Tonight's the Night is supplied with the dramaturgic details of that veteran farce, The Pink Domino - perhaps a few too many for the amount of music. And as for the music, it may not be up to American tunes as ragtime, but its composer is aware of the existence of the bassoon. And that is a good deal.
'Tonight's the Night is fresh from England, fresh as an English daisy. So far it has acquired only three bad habits: allusions to B.V.D.'s, Fatimas and the inevitable Ford.'
(The Evening Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, 4 May 1915, p. 7a)

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