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Edna May in The Belle of New York

June 29, 2013

Edna May (1878-1948), American star of musical comedy, as she appeared as Violet Gray in The Belle of New York, which was first produced at the Casino Theatre, New York, on 28 September 1897 and then at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, on 12 April 1898.
(cabinet photo: W. & D. Downey, London, 1898; the photograph has been inscribed by Miss May to Reginald Edward Golding Bright (1874-1941), the English literary and dramatic agent.

THE ”BELLE OF NEW YORK” IN LONDON.
A chat with Miss Edna May, ”THE BELLOF NEW YORK.”
‘PROSPERITY, through a fascinating Salvation [Army] lass, has come to the Shaftesbury Theatre. Crowded houses are nightly and at every matinée welcoming with rapture the gay American Company which has come, I hope, to stay. So delighted was I with my visit to this comfortable playhouse that I obtained an introduction to
Miss Edna May,
‘the sweet-voiced Belle herself, and found her as charming and as delightfully ingenuous as she appears before the footlights, where she takes all our hearts captive.
”’Perfectly lovely,” is Miss Edna May’s concise opinion of her reception. ”We were told before the curtain went up not to be disheartened if we did not get encores. Therefore the reception you gave us made a still more agreeable surprise. Indeed, your enthusiasm outrivalled even that of New York.”
”’So you are inclined to lie us here in London?”
”’Everything is Delightful.
”’I have not seen much as yet, but I mean to do so. I have been to see ‘The Geisha,’ and immensely admired dear little Maggie May’s voice; and last Sunday I lunched at Richmond, and then explored Hampton court. Your parks are splendid. But why do your women wear such long skirts when biking?
”’Do I Bike?
”’What a question! Yes, ever since I was twelve. I wouldn’t be without my Spalding wheel for anything.”
”’Is this your first appearance in a musical fantasia?”
”’Why, yes. I haven’t been on the boards more than eighteen months.”
”’Indeed! From where did you get your charming young voice, which for strength, timbre, register, and perfect harmony pleased me immensely?”
”’Well, I was born in Syracuse, New York State, but my schooling as a girl was acquired in New York, where I receive a general education, my musical instructor being Professor Walters; but I fear I gave most of my attention to fencing, which, although the most delightful exercise, is not particularly beneficial to the voice. But you must know that
”’I Never Studied for the Stage ”’in any way, my parents being of quite a different turn of mind. Nor have I sung before in public, excepting solos in church occasionally, at home, and in New York. However, a friend recommended me to go on the stage when I was barely seventeen – i.e. two years ago [sic] – when
”’I appeared in ‘Santa Maria
”’under Mr. Hammerstein at the Olympic Theatre in New York, and in the chief cities of the United States. Afterwards I played a small part with Mr. Hoyt, his wife being the star, in ‘A Contended Woman’; but seeing no prospect of getting on, I returned home rather discouraged.”
”’And then came your opportunity?”
”’The Character of Violet Gray
”’in ‘The Belle of New York.’ Isn’t it a sweet-sounding name?”
”’Your voice is so fresh and natural, and its register is very great; quite up to upper E I should say.”
”’Yes, that is the extent of my register. The music of ‘The Belle of New York’ scarcely does me credit, as it is written for a medium register. It is when I get on the higher notes that I feel most at home. The fact is
”’I Really Love to Sing.
”’I got the nickname of Adelina Patti at school, partly for that reason, and because my patronymic is very similar. Edna May, my stage name, being really Christian names only.”
”’Before I go I wonder if you would oblige me with a verse of that charming Salvation-lass song, which has haunted me ever since I heard it?”
‘Most obligingly Miss May sat down and sang the sweet, demurely expressed refrain, which has become the talk of London –
”’When I ask then to be good,
As all young men should be,
they only say they would
Be very good – to me.
Follow on, follow on,
Till the light of Faith you see
But they never proceed
To follow that light
But always follow – me.”’
(The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, London, Saturday, 30 April 1898, p. 276)

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