Vanity Fair, June 1920
The Theatrical Year
An Alphabetically Arranged Catalogue of the Broadway Season
By P. G. WODEHOUSE
STRICTLY speaking, as I take my typewriter in hand and spell out these words, it is April, and the sleet is beating against the window and the logs are crackling on the hearth and the weather prophets are predicting a white summer: but by the time they appear it will be May, “the merry month of May”, as Richard Barnfield—I bet you thought it was Shakespeare—says in his widely-read Address to the Nightingale. May was always known as the merry month because it was then that the theatrical season used to end. Nowadays, of course, the year is one long theatrical season; but it used to be the habit of dramatic critics at this particular moment to weigh in with a thoughtful resumé of the past season—best six star performances, best six non-star performances, six worst frosts, and all that sort of thing. I see no reason why these quaint old customs should be allowed to lapse into desuetude, if you see what I mean, so I will proceed without further preamble to my review of the theatrical year, beginning with
There has been a lot of this all over the place. We now come to
There has been a lot of this, too, much of it presented on the stage and a good deal written by the
who have had an unusually busy year. There is still no solution of the problem why people become critics. They know perfectly well that at least sixty per cent of the plays they will have to see will be hard to bear, yet they come up—if not smiling, at any rate without obvious signs of distress—night after night. You can’t choke them off. This is probably the spirit which makes America what it is. This season there has been a growing practice among critics of roasting a play on the morning after production and then having another go at it in the Sunday edition under the title of Second Swats or The Past Week in the Theatre, which has made it pretty rocky going for
who thus get it twice in the same place, and experience the complex emotions of the commuter who, coming home in the dark, trips over the baby’s cart and bumps his head against the hat-stand. There have not been many new dramatists. The old stand-bys, Shakespeare, Samuel Shipman and the rest, have been as busy as ever. The biggest wallop, however, has undoubtedly been delivered by a newcomer,
ERVINE, ST. JOHN,
who, without the aid of a bedroom scene, has put across two emphatic successes. (The difference between an emphatic success and “the greatest hit in twenty years” is that the latter is generally just coming off after two losing weeks.) Mr. St. John Ervine is the author of Clegg, Jane, not of
FLAME, THE BLUE
in which Theda Bara makes her last appearance on the speaking stage. (See above, under “Bilge”.) There are many points about The Blue Flame which entitle it to a place of its own, but for purposes of record, one may put it, with The Red Dawn, Katie’s Kisses, Musk, The Whirlwind, and Three’s a Crowd in the list which comprises
GHASTLY SHOWS, THE SIX MOST
While, looking on the brighter side of the picture, we may rank The Gold-Diggers, Abraham Lincoln, Déclassée, The Famous Mrs. Fair, Scandal, and Wedding Bells as the
HITS, SIX BIGGEST NON-MUSICAL
It has been well said that life has its compensations. What we lose on the swings we make up on the roundabouts. The same season which brought The Blue Flame brought also practically no
the ever-changing dictates of fashion enacting that this year a cold in the head should not be so described. This led to the theatres on the road remaining open right along, thus enabling managers to accumulate money for the purpose of losing it on other productions. As showing how all things work together for good, this was excellent for
whose cut-rate agency has seldom been more prosperous. We have never met Joe socially, but we have an idea that the fur-coated man in the Rolls-Royce which nearly ran into us the other day must have been he. He looked like one of the richer millionaires, and we are convinced that it was Joe. He has rarely had a better year.
We now come to
of which the six biggest were—in fact still are—As You Were, Apple Blossoms, Buddies, Irene, The Night Boat and Ruddigore, and we wish like the deuce that, considering that Buddies and Irene never have an empty seat, people would stop telling us that the intimate musical comedy is dead. All the above pieces were good. The two we want most to see again are Irene and Ruddigore. The success of the latter was the most pleasing event of the season. The ultimate test of a musical piece is, Would you like to be in the orchestra and have to see it every night? We shouldn’t mind a bit doing some light work like banging the cymbals nightly at Ruddigore.
Flitting on, we approach the subject of
of which this season there have been several, notably the production of Aphrodite, which we were just going to touch on under the heading
One of the curiosities of modern life which fascinate the thinker is the odd fact that, if only you shove the action of a play far enough back into the past, you can get away on the public stage with stuff which on the beach of Coney Island would infallibly lead to your being pinched and hauled before a tribunal. Up at the Century a suit of luminous paint cut tightly about the hips was the management’s idea of what the smart woman should wear. It is true that this was supplemented later by about enough diaphanous material to make an undersized baby’s sock, but what of that?
No one seems to know yet what effect
is going to have on the theatre. So far, it has been possible to retain the bringing in of cocktails by the Japanese butler, without which no serious play can succeed, by assuming that the hero has a private stock: and it will not be for a year or two that the plausibility of this will be seriously questioned. Jokes about prohibition have been very strong on the wing, but can hardly last for another season, for which reason we may expect to see many revue librettists joining the bread-line or going to work. But it is impossible to predict with accuracy, and the future of the stage under Prohibition must remain
QUESTION, THE GREAT
as before. Which brings us to
SEXTETTE, THE ORIGINAL FLORODORA
Columns have been written about the original Florodora Sextette. The subject is one which touches the popular imagination. Years have passed and much water has flowed under the bridge since Florodora was first produced, and of the members of the original sextette which warbled its way to fame there remain to-day only three thousand, eight hundred and eleven.
Only a memory now is the
between the Actors Equity and the Managers Association which threatened at one time to strangle the theatrical season at birth. It is immaterial which way our personal sympathies lie, but an interesting point is that, after attending a number of meetings of playwrights which were called in the hope of effecting a reconciliation of the warring parties, we were amazed at the facial homeliness of our fellow-authors. You ought to have seen them. We had never dreamed till then that dramatists were such a
UGLY CROWD, DARNED.
Fully cognizant though we were of the fact that we were far from being a Lillian Russell, we came away from those meetings with our chin up and went and had our photograph taken. Until the effect had worn off with the passage of time we were
VAIN, IN DANGER OF BECOMING.
And even now, when we think of those meetings, there seems to be a certain something, a sort of rugged charm about the face which peers wistfully at us out of our shaving-mirror. Far be it from us to throw bouquets at
WODEHOUSE, P. G.,
unduly, but there really does.
And now, touching lightly on
which are, or ought to be, a feature of every theatre orchestra, and
of which there are the usual number in our vaudeville palaces, and, finally,
who is going as strong as ever, we shall bring to a close this brief record of another theatrical year.