Lillian Russell

April 11, 2013

Lillian Russell (1860/61-1922), American beauty and former star of comic opera in burlesque for the first time in Whirl-i-gig, Weber and Fields’s Broadway Music Hall, New York, 21 September 1899
(photo: Dana Studios, New York and Brooklyn, circa 1895)

(From Our Own Correspondent.)
‘”Whirligig, a dramatic conundrum in two guesses,” the second “guess” being “The Girl from Martin’s [sic] [i.e. The Girl from Maxim’s]; a bit of a fling at the Parisian comedy craze,” formed the opening programme at Weber and Field’s Broadway Music Hall, on the 21st inst., and drew such a big crowd that the little house was packed to the doors. Every seat in the house had been sold by auction at a high premium, two boxes having fetched $250 each. The jokes and comic scenes of the new offerings were by Edgar Smith, the lyrics by Harry B. Smith, and the music by John Stromberg. In Whirligig the authors have adhered to their regular methods in providing a story which has no particular point or moral, but gives opportunity for the introduction of witty absurdities, droll humour, plenty of music, gay costumes, and pretty girls. Messrs Joe Weber and “Lew” Fields are again seen as a pair of fun -making Germans who lose themselves in a labyrinthian [sic] dialogue of broken English, and have a knack of getting into trouble and involving others in their tribulations. The former is introduced as Herman Dillpickel, inventor of the Flotascope, “a machine for throwing living pictures on the native air,” and the latter as Wilhelm Hochderkaiser, an architect with plans for a jail possessing all the comforts of home. An important feature of the programme was the début in burlesque of Lillian Russell, who, in America, bears the undisputed title of “Queen of Comic Opera,” and whose salary at this music hall is said to be $1,500 per week. Miss Russell, who received an ovation on her entry, figured prominently in the first part as Mdlle. Fifi Coo-Coo, Queen of Bohemia, and The Girl from Martin’s [sic], a burlesque on the Feydeau farce (a burlesque on a farce is surely a novelty) now running at the Criterion here, as the frisky young person who finds herself in the wrong bed. Doubts of Lillian Russell’s popularity in burlesque were dispelled at the outset, for she adapted herself admirably to the new surroundings, and acted the burlesque scenes as though travesty, instead of comic opera, had been for forte for years. She presented a handsome appearance in a richly embroidered cream white gown, a crimson velvet hat with feathers of exaggerated dimensions, scarlet lingerie, and red slippers with diamond buckles. Miss Russell had two good songs, “The Queen of Bohemia” and “The Brunette Soubrette.”
‘The Queen of Bohemia fascinates Mr Sigmund Cohenski, a wealthy Hebrew gentleman. This latter rôle fell to “Dave” Warfield, who gave another of his inimitable character studies. A flirtation scene between these two, a clever travesty of the Marquis of Steyne incident in Becky Sharp, was one of the best things in the show. Peter Dailey appeared as Josh Boniface, the prosperous proprietor of a hotel in the suburbs of Paris, in the first part, the chorus girls being his waitresses and a chambermaids, and as General Petitpois, in the after-piece. According to precedent Mr Dailey sang a new coon song with a catchy melody wedded to it, and, also according to precedent, it was encored half a dozen times.
‘As Captain Kingsbridge, of the U.S. Navy, Charles Ross had a taking sea song, and a travesty of a scene in Miss Hobbs, with Irene Perry in Annie Russell’s rôle, which were sung and acted with charming grace and humour. John T. Kelly was Harold Gilhooly, “with a life story and a trained bear.” As an Italian with a Hibernian dialect he was exceedingly funny, and the comic pantomime of George Ali as Bruno, the bear, was very diverting. In the burlesque of The Girl from Maxim’s Mr Kelly was the idiotic Duke de Swellfront, with varnished hair; Weber and Fields were the ferocious duellists, Sarsaparilla and Tarroller; Dave Warfield, Dr. Fromage; and Lillian Russell, Praline. Some of the things that have been expurgated from the adaptation of the French farce at the Criterion seemed to have crept into the travesty of it, some of the episodes being of a pretty reckless character. The costumes were exceptionally handsome, and the richness of the stage pictures has been rarely excelled. Miss Hilbon, the little daughter of Bessie Bonehill, played a small part acceptably, and the Misses Mabel and Lulu Nichols as Madame Petitpois, “addicted to splits,” and the Duchess De Swellfront, the Duke’s mamma, respectively, increased the fun at every opportunity. Bessie Clayton’s sprightly and novel dance made a big hit. There were the usual enthusiastic demonstrations at the close, the stage being crowded with floral offerings of all shapes and sizes. Newly decorated and improved, the music hall now ranks among the most tastefully appointed amusement houses on Broadway.’
(The Era, London, Saturday 7 October 1899, p.9e)

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