I’ve been experiencing flashes to the past over the last few days. On Wednesday, July 25, Peninsula Players celebrated its 83rd birthday the best way possible – we opened the bubbly musical set in the Jazz Age, “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
This lively musical pays homage to the Golden Age of musicals – the 1920s and 1930s. The cast of 15 don sparkly flapper dresses and stylish suits and bring that frothy energy filled with nostalgia of a time gone by.
This musical comedy centers around the forthcoming marriage of showgirl Janet, a member of Feldzieg’s Follies. As the wedding draws near, the producer attempts to sabotage the wedding in order to save his own skin from two money-collecting baker/gangsters. If it sounds outrageous, you’ll have to see the show to laugh along.
Feldzieg’s Follies are based loosely on The Ziegfeld Follies founded by Florenz Ziegfeld in 1901. The Ziegfeld girls were known to wear elaborate costumes, from pluming, fluffy feathers to battleships by designers such as Erté, Lady Duff Gordon and Ben Ali Haggin.
Many entertainers of the era appeared in the Follies including W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice, Ann Pennington, Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, Bob Hope, Will Rogers, Ruth Etting, Ray Bolger, Nora Bayes and Sophie Tucker.
England’s stage also had its version of Feldzieg’s Follies. The Gaiety Girls were polite, well-spoken, well-behaved young women and should not be confused with the corseted choruses of musical burlesques. The Gaiety Girls were attired in the latest of high-fashion and became the ideal symbol of womanhood.
Producer George Edwards arranged with Romano’s Restaurant for his girls to dine at half-price. It was good exposure for the girls and made Romano’s the center of London’s nightlife.
The term “Stage Door Johnnies” was coined for the wealthy gentlemen who would wait outside the stage door hoping to escort these ladies of respectable backgrounds to dinner.
The Gaiety Girls popped up in another Peninsula Players flashback I had last week. If you are frequent reader of the Players Pen, you know I also delve into the archieves of the theater now and then. Last week I was able to secure vintage press photos for the Peninsula Players archives.
The images were press photos of the wedding of our founder Caroline Fisher to Rodion Rathbone, son of film and stage star Basil Rathbone. I’ve seen images on the internet, but as I held an actual press photo from 1938, I felt the same thrill as the “Man in Chair” when he holds the rare double-album recording of “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
The most exciting part of these precious photos for me is credits stamped and pasted onto their backs that were issued by the Los Angeles news bureau, Daily News Building. Take a deep breath, Turner Classic Movie fans, and read on.
“Mary Pickford, Buddy Rogers, Dolores Del Rio, Jeannette MacDonald and Myrna Loy were among the film notables attending.”
Yes, I held my breath as I read that…and more.
“Actress Constance Collier was Matron of Honor.”
As much of an aficionado of theater history as the “Man in Chair” is of musical theater, I was thrilled to hold this document and be transported to 1938. Reading “Constance Collier” sent shivers up and down my spine.
Constance Collier was born into the theater. Her parents were actors, and her first stage experience was at age three as Peaseblossom in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and at age 15 she became a Gaiety Girl.
As the days passed, I kept thinking to myself how “The Drowsy Chaperone” lightly mirrored this Players’ flashback. A “celebrity wedding” with a “chaperone.” I could, and may in a future column, expand about Constance’s career. What readers need to know for now is this: Constance was a well- established and distinguished stage actress on Broadway and in the West End.
Constance created the role of Carlotta Vance in George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s 1933 stage production of “Dinner at Eight.” By the time of Caroline and Rodion’s wedding, Constance had established herself in Hollywood as a dramatic vocal teacher. Some of her pupils included Colleen Moore, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Vivian Leigh, Marilyn Monroe and Door County’s own Caroline Fisher.
In 1938, a production of “Twelfth Night” was slated at Peninsula Players for late August, with Constance Collier to direct Caroline’s portrayal of Viola. Constance gained international fame as a Shakespearian actress, including her 1906 performance as Cleopatra in “Antony and Cleopatra.”
I have always been intrigued by that listing of “Twelfth Night” in a playbill from 1938, but yet I have never found a playbill or images from its production to add to my cast database. But in my research spurned by these photos I finally found the answer, and I’ll share it with you next week.
Till then, flashes to the nostalgic past with showgirls, champagne, tap dancing and lively tunes await you at Peninsula Players through August 12. Join us by the bay for a delightfully fun performance. You can call the Box Office at (920) 868-3287 Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m., or visit www.peninsulaplayers.com. We hope you will join us by the bay, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine!