Katie Barry as Fifi in A Chinese Honeymoon, New York, 1902October 12, 2014
Katie Barry (1869?-after 1909), English actress and singer, as Fifi in the first American production of A Chinese Honeymoon, produced at the Casino, New York, on 2 June 1902. The part of Fifi was first played in London (Strand Theatre, 5 October 1901) by Louie Freear who was succeeded by Hilda Trevelyan.
(photo: Gilbert & Bacon, 1030 Chestnut Street. Philadelphia, probably 1902)
‘A CHINESE HONEYMOON.
‘English Musical Comedy is Presented at the Casino.
‘Distinct achievement in A Chinese Honeymoon, the new musical comedy seen at the Casino last evening, is to be credited to Katie Barry, a diminutive newcomer, who, by reason of a quaint personality, a semblance of buoyant good nature and ability in the direction of grotesque activity, scored an unusual success with an audience that was not always as discriminating as it was demonstrative. From the occasion of her first entrance through the successive drolleries in which she figured, as well as in her individual songs, which proved among the most diverting features of the entertainment, Miss Barry’s efforts provided occasion for much spontaneous laughter. Entirely unknown here up to last night, her success is, therefore, a fact to be recorded.
‘Another surprise of the evening was provided by Aimee Angeles, who blossomed forth as an imitator of no mean ability, to the satisfaction of those who had heretofore known her simply as a graceful dance in the Weber and Fields ranks. The enthusiasm evoked by her mimicry, in which she was admirably assisted by William Pruette, was unbounded.
‘Mention of these distinctly favored features of the new musical comedy seem fitting in the very beginning for such success as the piece achieved is largely due to the efforts of the actors, and to those of the scene painters and costumers. If the author of the book and the composer of the music had been as successful as those who had the setting forth of their work, praise, which must now be qualified, might be accorded without stint. But there is little in the book, which is by George Dance, that provides any occasion for humor, and most of Howard Talbot’s music, which it is not reminiscent, is lacking in such tunefulness as is required to make it of the essentially popular sort. One has passed the stage nowadays of asking for great originality in such composition – or, at any rate, one is mightily surprised if it is forthcoming. But that the tunes shall fall pleasingly on the ear and that they shall come readily to the lips of whistlers and singers – that may be fairly demanded. Perhaps after a few nights, too, the tendency toward ear-crashing effects in the rendering of the choruses will have been overcome – that may well be hoped for, for last night noise, rather than melody, marked much of what was sung.
‘In point of lavishness of production A Chinese Honeymoon is entitled to much praise. The two scenes – ”the garden of the hotel at Yiang Yiang” and ”the room in the Emperor’s palace” – are well painted, and the pictures presented, with many richly dressed women on the stage, is one of Oriental splendor. In the combinations of colors one notes the absence of those faults in taste which so often mar. An exceptionally pretty and novel effect was obtained in the second act, where disappearing and reappearing lines of chorus girls in bright colored gowns provide a panorama of changing color.
‘The story of the Chinese Honeymoon is not important. It concerns one Simon Pineapple, who goes to China on a honeymoon with his bride, under the somewhat unusual conditions of being accompanied by her eight bridesmaids. The chief uses of these bridesmaids is apparently to blow screeching whistles, which add to the general clamor, and to wear ”creations” in the now absolutely essential ”octet speciality” [a reference to Leslie Stuart’s song, ‘Tell Me Pretty Maiden‘ from Florodora (1899]. Pineapple meets in China his nephew, Tom Hatherton, who is there for the purpose of falling in love with Soo Soon, the Emperor’s niece, Fifi, a waitress in a hotel, is in love with Tom, but sacrifices herself to make that worthy young man happy. The Emperor has ordered his Lord Chancellor to find him a bride, one of the conditions being that the aspirant for that position shall not known the real rank of her fiance-to-be, but shall be allowed to think that he is a bill-poster. Various complications result through the peculiarities of the Chinese laws. Pineapple finds himself married to his niece-that-was-to-be and Hatherton’s intended bride becomes his aunt-in-law. It may readily be observed, therefore, that atmosphere is not entirely forgotten even to the extent of providing a Chinese puzzle in the disposing of the variously related persons.
‘Thomas Q. Seabrooke, who played ”Pineapple,” won favor for a song, ”Mr. Dooley” and Van Renssalear Wheeler was particularly favored for his number, ”I Love Her.” Edwin Stevens was successful as the emperor, as was Amelia Stone, the ”Soo Soo”.’
(The New York Times, New York, Tuesday, 3 June 1902, p. 9a)
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Katie Barry (whose real name appears to have been Catherine Patricia Rafferty or, possibly, Laverty), was a niece of the actor and playwright, George Conquest (1837-1901), sometime manager of the Grecian Theatre in the City Road, London. She is said to have been born in London about 1869 and her career began as a small child at the behest of her uncle. She subsequently had a very busy career, including a tour of Australia in the late 1888s, before going to the United States in 1902 to star as Fifi in A Chinese Honeymoon. Miss Barry remained in America, where she became very popular, both in musical comedy and in vaudeville. Her career appears to have ended upon her marriage in 1908 as the second wife of Julius Scharmann (1867?-1914), a widower with three children and a member of the well-known brewing firm of H.B. Scharmann & Sons of 355-375 Pulaski Street, Brooklyn, New York. Mr Scharmann committed suicide by shooting himself with a revolver on 3 December 1914. It was said that he was grieving over the recent death of his closest friend, Ferdinand Schwanenfingel (various contemporary reports, including The Brooklyn Daily Eagle,, New York City, Thursday, 3 December 1914, p. 1c). It is assumed that Mrs Scharmann (Katie Barry) remained in the United States but her whereabouts following the death of her husband is as yet unknown.
Katie Barry’s recording (Columbia 1797, circa May 1904) of ‘I Want to Be a Lidy’ is included on the CD, Music from The New York Stage, 1890-1920, vol. I, Disc 2, no. 11.