Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play at the Victory Theater in Dayton, Ohio on April 2nd & 3rd, 1920.
By Don Taylor
On April 1st, “Chin Chin” played at the Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio. The troupe then traveled 200 miles to the southwest to Dayton and the beautiful Victory Theater.
The Dayton Daily News of March 28th, advertised the show was coming – Friday and Saturday April 2 & 3 – Matinee Saturday.
Advertising let potential patrons know that the show was:
“The only company presenting in the original entirety the Greatest American Musical Comedy Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin” with Walter Wills and Roy Binder. Two Years at the Globe Theater, N.Y. Clean and Wholesome Fun – Running over with clever acts, “Chin Chin” has a name of Magic-Music That Is Sorcery – Nifty Little Chinese Maids – Toys – Coolies – Bears – A Real Circus Tent – Clowns – Bareback Riders – Grotesque Dancing A-Plenty and Tom Brown’s Clown Saxophone Band. “
Other advertising before the show was consistent with advance advertising at other venues.
The show of April 2nd was not well received. James Muir wrote for the Dayton Daily News, probably, the most scathing review of “Chin Chin” I have ever read. In the midst of his tirade, he does mention that Donna has a “fair voice.”
Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) · 03 Apr 1920, Sat · Page 8
Inferior Company at Victory Is Presenting “Chin Chin”
By James Muir
We have always believe there is nothing so bad but that it might be worse. But that was before we witnessed “Chin Chin” Friday night at the Victory theater and found it to be a production sunk in the abysmal depths of putridity. Had it been the offering of Thursday we might have considered it an April Fool joke and laughed with gusto and admitted that the joke was on us. But since it came too late to be taken in the spirit of fun, we will have to review it, albeit with tongue in cheek, and thus unburden our tale of woe.
Perhaps the least said about such shows the better, silence sometimes being an expression of contempt. But it would be straining the quality of mercy to pass it by, besides doing an injustice to the readers who are guided in their theater attendance, to some extent, by the reviews in the newspapers. So for them, we say that if you expect the Clown Band of Saxophonists, which is really good, there is little left to the show.
At the close of the second act at least 50 people left the theater. The expression on their faces gave them the appearance of a lodge of sorrow leaving the home of some deceased brother.
“These people are not actors, they’re murderers,” fumed one young man as he left the theater with his lady escort. Perhaps he was stewing over the $5.50 which he had paid for his seats.
Evidently, she was too exasperated to answer him.
“The critics are all that will be left,” laughed another, as the people continue to file out.
“Well why don’t you go too?” asked his friend.
“Oh, it’s warm here, at least,” he replied. “Besides the circus scent in that second act left me almost unconscious. I’ll have to get back my strength before I go home.”
We are tempted to continue in this strain still further, even though we are mindful that this is not good criticism and that it is much easier to be a foolish jester than a wise critic. And yet, one much laugh in order to keep from crying. This is the American way of letting off steam.
For to take “Chin Chin” seriously is to tell the truth about it; to state that it has the rancid odor of the tanks; to become querulous and ill-natured because in this large and numerically impressive company there is hardly a good voice, and hardly a situation intended for comedy that is not spoiled by the two gloom dispensers, Walter Wills and Roy Binder. They are the successors of Montgomery and Stone, for whom the three-act musical fantasy was written by Anne Caldwell and R. H. Burnside, with music by Ivan Caryll. Wills attempts to imitate Stone and Binder to imitate Montgomery, with disastrous results, of course. Indeed Wills has nothing to give but some of the clownish movement of Fred Stone, for he is quite lacking in the mirthful spirit of that great comedian. He almost ruins the clever fake ventriloquial scent by his inane manner of repeating, “Very good, Eddie, very good.” However, to give the devil his dues he does some capable dancing in the Dance Poetique number with Irene McKay, receiving some well-deserved applause for his accomplishment.
As for the other twenty or more principals, we can only say that most of them hardly know the rudiments of acting, much less how to recite lines, sing songs and win laughter. To run down the list of the bad ones would take too long. So we will mention only a few who are somewhat better than the others. Starr Dunham, as Aladdin, is the best of these. He has a good voice and he renders quite well. Donna Montran, the goddess of the lamp, is a beautiful blond with a fair voice. Carrie Dale as Widow Twankey, as some personality but no opportunity to do anything. Ethel Lawrence assists Dunham in his singing of the tuneful “Love Moon” in an acceptable manner.
“Chin Chin” is an extravaganza built around the Arabian Nights story of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. It is big and showy from a scenic standpoint, though, of course, no settings look fresh after six years of wear. But it was never a very sprightly entertainment in itself, being wholly dependent upon Montgomery and Stone who could make almost anything go. So, when Montgomery died and Stone went into another production, “Chin Chin” should have been shelved or put on one of the cheaper circuits At the present price and with the present company, Charles Dillingham is taking money under false pretenses. A much better company presented “The Red Mill” at the old National theater at a top price of 75 cents, after Montgomery and Stone had discarded it.
Ouch. That was painful to read. In defense of the cast, they had been on the road ten months at this point. They typically did ten or more shows a week in four or five different cities. It had to have been totally exhausting. Luckily, the show only ran a few more weeks, ending in May 1920.
After the showing in Dayton, the troupe continued on and performed at Camp Sherman, (Chillicothe) Ohio, 75 miles to the southeast the following night.
The Victory Theater is one of the greatest and oldest theaters of America. The theater opened as The Turner Opera House in 1866. The theater burned in 1869 and was rebuilt in 1871 and renamed “The Music Hall.” In 1885, it became “The Grand Opera House” and in 1899 was renamed the “Victoria Opera House.” In 1903, it became the “Victoria Theater.”
In 1913, the Great Dayton Flood severely damaged the ground floor of the theater. In 1918, the theater had another fire. At the end of World War I, the theater had extensive remodeling and reopened as “The Victory Theater” in 1919. In 1930, the theater was modified to support talking pictures. It was renamed the “Victoria Theater” after extensive renovations, in 1989, to outfit the theater expressly for performing arts.
Today the theater is operated by the Victoria Theatre Association. You can take a virtual tour of the theater on their website. It is a truly beautiful theater. They currently present productions of classics such as Adam’s Rib, The Princess Bride, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
- Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) · 28 Mar 1920, Sun · Page 25 – Victory Theater Ad – Newspapers.com
- Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) · 03 Apr 1920, Sat · Page 8 – Amusements Column – Newspapers.com
- Internet: Cinema Treasures – Victoria Theatre in Dayton, OH.
- Internet: Ohio Link: Finding Aid Repository – History of the Victory Theatre.
- Internet: Wikipedia – Victoria Theatre (Dayton, Ohio)