Stars in the Production of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”
“‘The strongest amateur musical organization ever gathered in New Haven,’ is what those persons say who have heard the company is to produce ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.’ The committee representing the New Haven Grays have had a wealth of material to choose from and consequently from an artistic standpoint the musical numbers of the piece will be done in a manner that will rival any amateur musical offering ever heard here.
The company is particularly fortunate in the choice of singers for the four leading roles. Miss Anna M. Carroll, who is to sing the part of ‘Kate’ is well known as the youngest and best dramatic soprano in this city. Her work is always done with a finish that utterly disarms the critics and is the envy and despair of many another singer.
W. P. Frost in the tenor role, will furnish a surprise for those who are not familiar with his work. He possesses a true tenor voice of remarkable range and is a singer of experience having held many important musical engagements in Elmira, Bath and New York cities before coming here. In business life Mr. Frost is the manager of the White Steamer garage, but despite gasolenic atmospheres, nerve-racking ‘honks’ and other little pleasures of an ‘auto’ existence, he managed to retain his ‘Caruso’ attachment.
Miss Bertha Hunie, a member of the Nevin quartette, has the contralto part and the baritone role is to be taken by Stephen G. Crabb. Both of these singers are well known in the local musical world. Mr. Crabb is the only one of the four principals who has been heard in previous productions by the New Haven Grays and his work in the past two years gives room for nothing but a prediction of his complete success this year.
Only two full weeks of rehearsals remain for the presentation of the opera. The members of the company are already supplying their friends with the necessary cards of admission as so much per and the indications now are that the Grays will have during their three nights performance even larger audiences than have witnessed their two past operatic attempts.”
-Excerpt and (top) image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, April 11, 1908
Governor to Attend – Informs Grays He Will Attend Theatrical Performance
“Lieutenant Frederick G. Crabb, chairman of the Grays’ entertainment committee, has received from Governor Woodruff his assurance that he will be present with his staff on Friday evening, May 1, at the Hyperion theatre to attend the second night’s performance of ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.’
As the Grays’ theatricals Friday night has come to be known as Governor’s Night there is always a brave showing of the gold lace of the handsome uniforms worn by the Governor’s staff.
For the past two years there have been large delegations from the Governor’s Foot Guard present on this particular night and plans are already on foot for a goodly showing from the ‘Feeters’ this year. These militiamen always wear their full dress uniform which adds a brilliant touch of color to the picture and incidentally it might be added, greatly strengthens the already strong bond of friendship between the ‘Feeters’ and the Grays.
The advance sale of tickets for the opera indicates good sized audiences at the three performances. The sale of seats opens next Monday morning at the Hyperion and it will be a case of the first come first serve as there are absolutely no tickets reserved in advance and every one has a fair opportunity to secure good seats, the only requisite being the securing of a good place in the ticket line.
Interest in this year’s operatic attempt by the Grays is growing daily because of the fact that it is the first time this opera has ever been offered by an amateur company. The music of the opera is unusually brilliant and the production should excel any amateur effort in this city.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, April 22, 1908
Story of the Play
“Those who have been following the rehearsals of the Grays’ production, ‘When Johnnie Comes Marching Home,” this year, predict that this third effort of the local militiamen along theatrical lines will prove by far the most successful, as well as the effort they have made. It seemed at first, even to some of the most ardent supporters of the soldier boys that they had undertaken a too ambitious task when they decided upon this piece as their offering for 1908. It is a well known fact that no amateur company in the United States has ever attempted to give this piece before, their reason being that it was far too difficult for them. In all probability without the able direction of Director Frank D. Nelson, the Grays would have found it too much for them, but if the last few rehearsals may be taken as an indication of what the performances are to be, the militiamen on April 30, May 1 and 2, will add more deserved laurels to their already unusual record.
The story of the play deals with the return of John Graham, known as ‘Johnnie,’ to his home as a northern officer. Just previous to his arrival General Allen has received dispatches containing information regarding the southern army. During the first act, these are stolen from his overcoat by Robert Graham, a spy. In turn they are confused with a pocketbook belonging to Johnnie, but after a shift is made by one, Jonathan Phoenix, and when the loss is discovered an order is given to search Phoenix, who is suspected of being a spy, they are found on the person of Johnnie. The usual complications follow and in the end the northern officer is freed from suspicion. A very pretty love story concerning Johnnie and Miss Kate Pemberton runs through the piece, the young lady being prominently connected with the mix-up of the pocketbook in which the dispatches are contained. The piece has vim and rollicking humor running throughout it and over twenty numbers with unusually good music, including one quintet of exceptional quality guarantee a most pleasing evening’s entertainment.
Owing to the character of the opera the selection of the principals necessitated a great deal of work on the part of Director Nelson and the Musical Director Prof. William E. Haesche. Finally the following competent cast was selected:
Kate Pemberton… Miss Apna Carroll.
Constance Pemberton, a widow… Miss Bertha Hunie.
Miss Graham… Miss Minna Storm.
Miss Susan Graham… Miss Bertha Lammlin.
Robert Graham… L. E. Moeller.
Jeffrey… Dr. George A. Lawton.
Cordella Allen, daughter of General Allen… Mrs. F. D. Nelson.
John Graham, son of Felix… W. P. Frost.
Gen. William Allen… S. G. Crabb.
Jonathan Phoenix… Jos. Southerton.
Felix Graham… E. C. Simpson.
Major Buckle… Joseph Weibel.
Lieut. Walker… George Hamilton.
Uncle Tom… William Semple, Jr.
There are several familiar names among the male members of the cast who have appeared in the previous productions of the Grays, namely, ‘The Mocking Bird,’ and ‘Geisha,’ and the female soloists are all young ladies well known in the New Haven musical circles. Great care has been taken in the selection of the chorus and long weeks of constant drilling have made them as near ‘letter perfect’ as amateurs hope to be.
The production itself is by far the most lavish thing that the local militiamen have attempted. Special scenery, costumes and properties have been obtained at considerable expense and one or two of the principals have even gone so far as to have their outfits made specially for them in this city. Two new numbers that have never been heard in New Haven, which are sure to prove hits have been introduced into the opera and a novelty, in the shape of a wooden dance. Mrs. Frank F. Nelson, who has had charge of the dancing girls, has a dozen young ladies who black up to represent negroes, will surpass any of the so-called pony ballets that have won applause in the two former operas given in this city. These pretty dancers are putting the final touches nightly on several of the most difficult ballet numbers that amateurs have ever attempted, and a true southern touch that Mrs. Nelson is working into her pupils will give a very pleasing effect.
This year the members of the company have had a decided advantage over those of former years in that they have been able to hold a large number of their rehearsals on the stage of both the New Haven and Hyperion theatres. This will do much toward accustoming these young people to the surroundings of the theatre and will give them, it is believed, far more than ordinary stage presence. Rehearsals of the ‘Army’ which will march around the rear drop at the end of the first act will be started next week and the members of the company are of the opinion that the hike to Chester Farms was nothing as to compare to the grueling march about the rear drop. There is considerable rivalry, it is understood, among the men in the company as to who shall have the distinction of leading this gallant brigade of sixty odd men as they keep starting off to meet an imaginary foe. It has one decided advantage, however, in that the admirers in the theatre will have several opportunities to see the loved ones in the departure of this gallant body.
Tickets for the three performances will go on sale at the Hyperion theatre, Monday morning.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, the New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, Saturday, April 25, 1908
Some of the Principals In the Grays’ Play
Grays On Boards – “When Johnnie Comes Marching Home Again” at Hyperion To-night
“The members of the company which are to present the Grays’ opera, ‘When Johnnie Comes Marching Home,’ at the Hyperion beginning this evening held their last rehearsal at that theater last evening. In full costume, even down to the make-up, the gallant militiamen and their fair assistants went over and over the piece until the wee hours of morning.
For the first time various lighting effects which are to be used were tried and in several of the scenes the effect was unusually attractive. Director Nelson got down to his work in dead earnest, and during the hours win which the members worked kept pounding away at them until one would think that it was a professional and not an amateur company that was preparing for its bow to the public.
The young ladies handled their hoopskirts with ease, while one or two of the men had some difficulty in navigating about these while going through their love scenes. They were quite adept in the art (that is, of navigating) before, tired out, but expectant, they left the theater.
No visitors were allowed to see the dress rehearsal this year, it being the desire of the management to have all the novelties – and there are a number of them – new to everybody.
One outsider who has been fortunate enough to attend one of the rehearsals has made the remark that it will be worth while to attend the production just to hear the quintet sing ‘Suwanee River.’ While those in the play agree that this is beautiful, they still insist, that it is not the only thing there is to see.
There were very few breaks in last night’s rehearsal, and these, it must be confessed, were noted with approval, as by the experience gained in former years the Grays have become superstitious enough to believe that a good performance is foreshadowed by a dress rehearsal which is not the most perfect thing that can be imagined.
Director Haesche has his orchestra in shape, and this promises to prove one of the features of the performance.
There are still a few seats remaining for to-night’s and Saturday night’s performances. Governor’s night, which is on Friday, promises to be even more brilliant than on the two previous occasions. All and all, it looks as though the Grays’ production of ‘When Johnnie Comes Marching Home,’ the first amateur performance of its kind in the country, will be far above the previous efforts along these lines that the popular soldier boys have made. It is a military play given by military men, and is graced by the presence of the highest military officials of the state. As to the rest, the verdict will come after to-night’s opening performance.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, April 30, 1908
Grays Score Big Hit With Johnny
“Johnny came marching home last evening at the Hyperion theater under the auspices of the New Haven Grays before a large audience, considering the weather. The amateurs were given encore after encore and they were deserved. The fact that this opera, put on by the local militiamen for the first time as an amateur production, went off so creditably is due to the untiring efforts of Director Frank D. Nelson. He was fortunate in his material, but it was his genius in this particular line that made last evening’s result possible.
To go into detail in the matter of particular stars is a difficult proposition, but it must be conceded that for all round ability both in acting and singing the honors of the evening were carried off by Private William P. Frost in the role of ‘Johnny.’ He was at all times perfectly at ease and gave the impression that he was thoroughly enjoying the work as well as trying to make others enjoy themselves. He made love, went into dramatics and even at times took a hand in the comedy work with the ease and finish of a professional. His work was very remarkable for an amateur, and, as was not the case, had the rest of the cast been mediocre he would have carried off the play.
Miss Anna M. Carroll in the role of Kate Pemberton sang in unusually good voice, and her work in this difficult role surprised even her most ardent admirers. She looked the part of the attractive southern girl, and won encores after all the songs she sang. One of the most attractive numbers of the opera was a duet which she sang in the first part of the second act in conjunction with Mr. Frost.
Mrs. Frank Nelson, always greeted with pleasure by friends of the Grays, took the part of Cordelia Allen, and as the only northern girl in the piece gaily danced and sang her way into the hearts of the audience. She was ever ready to take advantage of any chance for fun that fell to her lot, and made the role a comedy one. At this point it is well to mention the work of the group of dancers instructed by Mrs. Nelson. These ten girls were the distinctive features of the piece from a picture point of view. They danced with surprising skill for amateurs, when one considers that all of their numbers were difficult. Their dance as ‘Sambo Girls’ in the first act, where five of them appear as boys and five as girls, was encored again and again.
The comedy roles of the piece fell on ‘Joe’ Southerton and Private W. A. Semple, a new one in Grays theatricals. Joe as the Lawyer Marx of the play in the part of Jonathan Phoenix smirked and glided about the stage with the coolness of a professional. In his song ‘New Haven’ one of the unique features of the play, a wooden shoe dance by the ballet dressed as Dutch girls, made one of the hits of the evening. As Uncle Joe Private Semple made the character part a most excellent one. He sang with a decidedly colored twang, danced with an ease rarely shown by amateurs, and won a number of encores on both his songs. He made his part a neck and neck race with the well known Joe for his first honors in the comedy line.
And so one might go down the line mentioning the excellent stage presence and act of Miss Bertha L. Hunie in the role of Constance, the dramatic acting of Miss Lillian Moeller as Robert, the spy, and the excellent portrayal of General Allen by Private Stephen Crabb. Something can be said to the credit of each member of the cast for they worked hard and successfully to ‘make good.’
The prettiest song in the piece was ‘Fishing for the Moon’ in the second act sung by Private Frost. The introduction of a quartet and some very attractive lighting effects helped to make this as good as any professional company could have made it. ‘My Own United States,’ sung by Mr. Frost; ‘Fairyland,’ sung by Miss Carroll and ‘Mah Honey Suckle Gal’ by Mr. Semple, were the three big hits of the evening.
Then there was the chorus. And it was a chorus which could sing and did sing as few amateur choruses can sing. In both of the finales they filled the houses singing well together and with unusual effect. The male chorus deserves particular mention. It was well balanced, and in the numbers where they sang without the orchestra evoked great applause. It was due to the effort of Musical Director Haesche, who led the orchestra, that this was possible.
During the second act the members of the Grays give a bivouac scene in which the solider boys showed the way that they did the thing and the stuff that makes the life of the gallant soldier boy a happy one. They also marched about the rear drop as advertised, Judge Tyner commanding his army of some forty men with the air of an officer leading dauntless thousands to the front. This picture at the end of the first act with its stirring finale was accorded four curtain calls by the audience.
There were one or two places where slight breaks were made, but they were of a character hardly worthy of notice, for as a whole the first night went off with remarkable smoothness. There were the usual offerings for all the participants, everything from American Beauties carelessly thrown on the stage from one of the boxes, to huge bouquets of pinks passed over the footlights to the players. There were smiles and boys a-plenty and then the curtain went down to the stirring notes of ‘My Own United States.’ The Grays had accomplished another triumph. They had done the thing that their admirers said they could do – they had presented a piece which no other amateur company has ever been able to give, and done it well.
And back of it all, his guiding head always in a prominence whether it was in a particularly well conceived scene or in the manipulation of the lighting effects, one could see the hand of Director Nelson. Mr. Nelson is very fortunate in having people like the Grays and their friends to work on, but the Grays are to be congratulated on having such a man as Director Nelson to work them into shape. ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ will be repeated at the Hyperion theater this evening and to-morrow night, and Monday, the by-that-time hardened Thespians will take their troupe barnstorming in the wilds of Meriden.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, May 1, 1908
Fine Audience – One of the Best Houses of the Season Sees Grays’ Show
“There was here and there an empty seat when the curtain went up last night for the first act of ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.’ The audience was as large as any that has greeted a production of any sort at the Hyperion this year, and if reports are true there will be as large a gathering of admiring friends at to-night’s performance, and a ‘packed house’ for Saturday night. Active veteran Grays turned out full companies, every member of the family being a part of the party, and hearty applause the general orders for the company entire.
There were several theater parties, many of them being whist clubs, and supper parties were made up and adjourned to the different cafes or, as was the case in some instances, to the home of some member, to talk it over. Socially the opera was the proverbial successful affair which is the rule with this popular company, the Grays, and their many friends and well wishes made their feelings very apparent, and everything went merrily. Everybody was pleased, and the show was certainly a success.
The women in the cast were lavishly remembered with flowers – huge bunches of carnations and roses going over the footlights at the conclusion of nearly every solo. To-night the governor and his staff will attend, and occupy the lower boxes.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, May 1, 1908
Governor Sees Grays’ Opera – Watches Johnny With Staff in Full Regalia Seated About Him in a Box – Big Theater Was Jammed – Not a Seat to be Had – Many Hits at Soldier-Spectators – Private Frost Again Takes Honors
“It was ‘Governor’s Night’ last evening at ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.’ The governor was certainly well protected, with his staff about him in the right hand lower boxes almost to a man, with the Governor’s Foot Guard in flaring-red uniform in front of him in the first three rows of the orchestra, with Colonel Geddes, of the Second regiment, and his staff in the left boxes, and the non-acting members of the Grays to be seen everywhere about the house dressed in full regimentals. But there was no need of any protection, for never was a more kindly audience assembled. Every possible encouragement, every sympathy and appreciation, was extended by the audience to the actor-folk. On the audience’s part every appropriate place chance for applause was seized by the forelock and corralled; on the part of those on the stage every possible chance to gain an effect was also made the best of.
About every seat in the house was taken, and in addition, there were rows of spectators standing in the rear. As on the night before, Private William Pr. Frost, as Colonel John Graham, made the individual hit of the evening. There may have been those in the cast who showed they had voices of exquisite quality for light opera work, as did Miss Anna M. Carroll, the ‘prima donna,’ whose voice is wonderfully pleasing and sympathetic, and many others; there may have been those who, like Private Stephen G. Crabb, showed they had acting abilities far above the average with amateurs; and there may have been soldiers of manly bearing and good to look upon, as Private Joseph A. Weibel; but Private Frost combined all these with pleasing qualifications acceptably and would have compared to advantage with any professionals today on the stage who play similar roles, namely, those of the handsome hero-soldier-lover-tenor.
Sergeant-Major Joseph E. Southerton, as the funny man of the cast, Jonathan Phoenix, the ne’er-do-well, showed the potential fun-producing abilities he is well known to have but he seemed to be greatly handicapped in his fight for the laughs by the strict limitations of the lines he had to speak. Private William A. Semple Jr. was realistic as a round-shouldered, cracked voice, woolly cropped negro slave as ever followed the one-night stands about the country with Little Eva.
On the shoulders of Mrs. F. D. Nelson, being the only professional or one-time professional in the cast, fell the major part of keeping the spirit and dash of the actor-folk up to the mark every minute. And no mention of the production could be given with any fairness without mentioning her husband, whose untiring efforts as stage manager have alone made the opera a reality.
Between the first act and the entre-act Governor Woodruff and the major part of his staff went out behind the scenes to watch the gentlemen in overalls construct waterfalls, forests and log cabins in the twinkling of an eye, and to chat with that part of the feminine cast that did not have to make the best of the few minutes’ intermission to add another coat of red grease to their faces. The governor seemed to be very interested in behind-stage proceedings. He and Captain Gruener and Colonel Geddes and Major Brown hobnobbed upon the play and the actors.
And speaking of waterfalls, there was never a harder working one than that on the back drop of the last scene, where it had to flow continuously for an hour or more, save when the derby or head of the spectators in the wings happened to come between the lens and white spot on the canvass. But the falls were not the only hard working element. The merry-go-round army at the end of act 1, which circulated about the painted forest in the rear and appeared 10,000 strong when it really was but twenty or more, was a deception, but it was very realistic and, after all, that was what was wanted.
In the box with Governor Woodruff were the following, all in gold braid and full dress uniform: Colonel I. M. Ullman, Colonel Charles M. Jarvis, Colonel M. D. Wise, Colonel John Atwood, Colonel J. Morse Ives, Colonel WIlliam F. Flanders, Major N. R. Hotchkiss, Major William P. Tuttle, Major W. H. Lyon of Meriden, Major Henry J. Steiner, Lieutenant F. S. Adams of Governor’s Island, Lieutenant Wilbur F. Parker, Major Frederick W. Brown, Naval Aid R. D. Chpin, Charles E. Julin, the governor’s secretary, and Postmaster James A. Howarth.
In the box with Colonel Geddes were the following, also in full uniform: Captain C. T. Goss Jr., Captain W. B. Spencer, Captain James I. Webb, Captain E. O. Greuner and Lieutenant E. S. Moulton.
One of the boxes on the left of the house in the lower tier was occupied by a party from the Union league club. All the upper boxes were filled even crowded as was all the house.
Naturally a great number of local and timely hits were introduced in the lines last evening which appealed to and referred to the spectators in uniforms, especially the Foot Guard, who made a very showy appearance all across the front of the house.
Assistant Postmaster Major William P. Tuttle and Dr. N. R. Hotchkiss at the Union League club gave a complimentary dinner to a number of friends yesterday afternoon at 5:30 o’clock. Expected to attend were Governor R. S. Woodruff and staff, Adjutant General George M. Cole, Colonel M. J. Wise, Colonel W. F. Landers, Postmaster James A. Howarth, Lieutenant Frank H. Adams of Governor’s Island, N.Y, Major F. H. Brown of the Foot Guard, Lieutenant Wilbur F. Parker of Meriden.
The dinner was purely informal. After it the party adjourned to the theater to see the opera.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, May 2, 1908