A TRIP TO
“Chinatown” opened at Broadway’s Madison Square Theater on November 9, 1891 and ran for 657 performances, or just short of two years. The play was such an enormous success that road companies were performing the play in every section of the country simultaneously with the Broadway production, and at one point a secondary company was opened in New York while the original company was still performing on Broadway.
Charles H. Hoyt was born in Concord, NH, on July 26, 1859. His father worked as a railway mail clerk and was away much of the time. When Hoyt was nine years old, his mother died. Fate was to have a hand in all of Hoyt’s relationships with women for his first wife, actress Flora Walsh, died after 5 years of marriage, and his second wife, actress Caroline Miskel, died 4 years after they wed. The death of his second wife, in 1898, prompted Hoyt’s complete physical breakdown the following year. In July 1900 he was committed to an insane asylum in Hartford, CT. Although his stay was brief, he returned to his Charlestown, NH home and died 4 months later.
Between 1883 and 1899, Hoyt wrote and produced 18 plays. “A Trip to Chinatown” was his 10th production and the play contained many Hoyt trademarks. Unlike many authors of his day, Hoyt did not emphasize character “types” -- his characters were all individuals; hiis material came from the everyday experiences of ordinary people; and he was seldom vulgar and never offensive, for he knew, as a producer, that vulgarity could drive away an audience.
Hoyt wrote farce comedy and knew nothing of music. Luckily he had the assistance of Percy Gaunt, who supplied all of the music for Hoyt’s lyrics in “Chinatown.” Their collaboration produced two songs that are still known to us over a hundred years later: “The Bowery” and “Reuben and Cynthia.” Although Hoyt was against interpolating popular songs of the day into his musical comedies, there were many interpolations into “A Trip to Chinatown,” obviously due to the many companies touring across the country. The most famous being Charles K. Harris’ “After the Ball” which was not part of the 1891 Broadway production, but was added the following year by the Milwaukee company.
In addition to “The Bowery” and “Reuben and Cynthia,” the remaining songs by Hoyt and Gaunt include “The Widow,” “Push Dem Clouds Away,” “The Chaperone,” “Out for a Racket,” and “Love Me Little, Love Me Long.” All will be heard in tonight’s performance with the exception of “Out for a Racket.” I was unable to locate the music to this song, although I did uncover the lyrics. In one other song, “Do, Do, My Huckleberry, Do,” I was only able to uncover the verse and not the chorus. Therefore, these two songs will not be heard this evening.
I have included an additional nine songs by other composers which may or may not have been a part of the original production. Searching the Lester S. Levy sheet music database at Johns Hopkins University and the Historic American Sheet Music database at Duke University, I found 8 songs that claimed to be in either Hoyt’s “A Trip to Chinatown,” or were sung by a member of the cast from Hoyt’s “A Trip to Chinatown.” I have included these songs in the second act “Medley” and as dance music. The song “McGee’s Backyard” was originally written by Hoyt and Charles Zimmermann for Hoyt’s 1888 production of “The Brass Monkey.” I included it after I was unable to provide the character of Willie with an appropriate song. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody is specified in the script for Ben and Flirt’s act one dance, but I also interpolated Harry J. Lincoln’s “Midnight Fire-Alarm” to open and close each act and to serve as bow and exit music.
The Catholic University of America’s library had a copy of the 1941 Princeton University Press collection, “Five Plays by Charles Hoyt” edited by Douglas L. Hunt. Although this collection proved to be of invaluable assistance, the George Washington University provided not one, but three versions of Hoyt’s script. Each version was a third- or fourth-generation carbon copy preserved on microfiche. From these copies I extracted the best material from each. As with most musicals at the turn of the century, the script changed, sometimes dramatically, with each new addition to the cast or with the formation of each touring company. Characters were further defined, plot elements changed, and songs replaced to provide for the individual talents of each new performer. For example, in one script the character of Flirt is a friend of the family, while in another she is the widow’s French maid; Isabelle and Willie only appear in one version; Wilder Daly was named Norman Blood in another; and the characters of Cora Fay and May Wing, as listed in the cast of characters, never appear in any script. Throughout the three versions, events that existed in one may not appear in the other two. Lines in one version were assigned to a different character in the other two versions. The introduction of a song was listed as “Flirt’s Song,” “Rashleigh’s Song,” or, most mysteriously, “Medley.” The actual song titles were not listed. In act one, all three scripts shared situations culminating in the same outcome, but in act two, and especially act three, the addition or deletion of characters changed the entire direction of the plot. This new version of the play, which I have prepared, carefully combines the best elements of each version while trimming the play to bring it into contemporary time constraints.
The character of Willie is a trouser role, or a man’s part written for a woman. Originally portrayed by Blanche Arkwright, Willie was most likely played by a woman due to his young age. The character of Mrs. Guyer, the widow, originally played by Anna Boyd, is a star role, and she is afforded a star entrance. Please feel free to applaud her entrance. We have provided for just such an interruption. Many of the songs became hits of the day, and it was quite normal for the audiences to join in on the choruses. Please feel free to join us in the choruses of “After the Ball” or “The Bowery” if you remember them.
The play is structured in three acts. Acts one and three are under 30 minutes, but act two is one hour in length, even after judicious cutting of dialog and musical repeats. In the late 19th century through the 1930s it was fashionable to arrive late to the theater in order to be seen taking your seats. Many audience members would leave early for late-night supper or parties, so a second act had to be strong because it might very well be the best attended act of the evening. In “A Trip to Chinatown,” this is no more apparent than when comparing the three acts: the first act contains two songs and the third act contains only one song; act three contains 12 songs.
The Musical Theater Research Project was developed to heighten research in musical theater and to pass along performance practices from America’s past to students of today. I would especially like to thank every student involved with this production, on stage and back stage. We are only given three weeks to pull this together and I think they have performed miracles in an incredibly short amount of time. I would also like to thank the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music for providing the opportunity for us to perform these landmark musicals. Dr. Michael Cordovana and Maureen Codelka were instrumental in preparing the music, and, as usual, Dr. Nicholas Catravas, who, if I may add can and does play anything, has proven himself invaluable to our work once again.
I hope you enjoy tonight’s performance.