Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” played at the Rajah Theatre in Reading, PA, on 24 April 1920
By Don Taylor
We know that April, 1920, was a grueling month for the “Chin Chin” cast. On April 22nd they played Frederick, MD. On the 23rd they traveled the 65 miles north to Carlisle, played there one night then on the 80 miles to Reading for another two shows – a matinee and an evening show.
The first advertising I found was in the Reading Eagle, starting on April 18th. There was a standard ad on page 16, along with a lengthy article about the show.[i]
Coming to the Rajah Theatre matinee and night, Saturday, April 24, Charles Dillinghan’s “Chin Chin,” the musical comedy which is one of those tales of love and wishing common to the Arabian Nights.
All impossibilities are crowded into it, jumbled together like the figures in a dream in the end it resolves itself into a vehicle for the display of the clever grotesqueries of the two clever “turn” artists, Walter Wills and Roy Binder. Mr Wills, whose body seems made of rubber, and whose facial expressions change as quickly as the wheel of fortune gives Chin Hop It Paderewsky, Mlle Falloffski, a gendarme and a ventriloquist, transformations accompanied by such curious tricks and poses such tumbling, dancing, imitating such a running fire of jokes and fun-making that the audience fairly screams with laughter. Mr. Binder gives in rapid succession Chin Hop Lo, the widow, a coolie, and the ringmaster, lightning changes of mood, manner and get-up that provide the audience to mirth. George Usher makes an aggregable and picturesque Aladdin.
The danseuse is Irene McKay, and astonishing acrobatic and step performer whose twinkling feet are full of speed and syncopation. Her number with Mr. Willis entitled “Dance Poetic,” is a remarkable performance ending with a surprise to the audience.
The favorite songs are “The Chinese Honeymoon,” “Good-bye Girls,” “I’m Through” “Volet,” “The Gray Dove,” and “Love Moon.” The most recalled dance and song numbers are the “Teddy Bear Dance,” (without words), “Go Gar Sing Gong-Jue,” “Temple Bells,” The Rag of Rags,” and “Bally Moony.”
The clever saxophone sextette by Tom Brown’s Clown Band is one of the most amusing and delightful bits of the play. The company is one of the largest organizations presenting a musical comedy on the road today. There girls and girls.
There were adds and articles daily in the Reading Eagle or the Reading Times from the 18th through the 23rd. I did not see any that called out Donna directly, but a couple mentioned “Love Moon” being sung, which was a song sung by the Goddess of the Lamp (Donna’s role).
It is likely that the “Chin Chin” cast had off on Sunday, April 26th. However, the show must go on and it played at the Hippodrome in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
The Rajah Theatre was initially built in the 1800s as a market with a Masonic Temple on its upper floors. It was built on a potter’s field of a cemetery. Although the cemetery interred were supposed to be reinterred at another location, in the early 1800s there were still 30 uncovered during the building during 1873.[ii] It was converted to a theatre in 1886 and became the Academy of Music.
The 1913 Theatrical Guide indicates that the Academy of Music had a seating capacity of 1,341 – 795 on the Main Floor, 341 in the Balcony, and 206 in the Gallery. Besides the Academy, there were four other theaters in Reading at the time, the Orpheum, Hippodrome, Lyric, and Palace Theatres.
In 1917, The Academy of Music was purchased by the Rajah Shriners, renamed the Rajah Theatre, and became the vaudeville house that “Chin Chin” played at.
In May 1921[iv] the Rajah burned and underwent substantial rebuilding. The theatre reopened on September 10, 1922.
The theater had two more fires, both in 1935, but recovered quickly from them.[v]
In 2000, the building received a $7 million facelift and became the Sovereign Performing Arts Center (named for Sovereign Bank). Today, it is the Santander Performing Arts Center (for the Santander Bank) and is home for the Reading Symphony Orchestra, the Reading Civic Opera Society, and hosts a variety of events.[vi]
Specifications for the Academy of Music (Rajah Theatre)[vii]
- Proscenium opening: 35.5×32 ft
- Front to back wall: 32 ft
- Between side walls: 76 ft
- Apron 2 ft
- Between fly girders: 45 ft
- To rigging loft: 55 ft
- To fly gallery: 30 ft
- 10 Dressing rooms
Today, the Rajah Theatre is the Santander Performing Arts Center.
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[i] The Reading Eagle (Reading, Pennsylvania) April 18, 1920, Page 16. Via Google News.
[ii] Devlin, Ron. 2016. “History Book: Where Music Met The Spirit Of The Dead “. Reading Eagle. Accessed October 6 2019. https://www.readingeagle.com/news/article/history-book-where-music-met-the-spirit-of-the-dead.
[iv] Some sources indicate that the fire took place on May 10th; others indicate the fire took place on May 21st.
· [v] “History of the Rajah Shrine”. 2019. Goreadingberks.Com. Accessed October 6 2019. http://www.goreadingberks.com/articles/article.php?articleID=6.
[vii] Journal – The Julius Cahn Gus Hill Theatrical Guide 1913-1914, Page 581.