Chin Chin – VaudevilleBy Don Taylor
Chin Chin played at the Smith Opera House in Geneva, NY, on May 21st. The troupe then traveled the 60 miles south to Elmira, and two shows at the Lyceum Theatre. This showing had more advertising articles than most shows. Sadly, my grandmother, Donna, isn’t mentioned by name, however, her role, “Goddess of the Lamp” is mis-mentioned as the “Goddess of the Light.”
On May 18th, the Star-Gazette ran the following advertisement on Page 13:
“Chin Chin” Saturday Matinee and Evening
Melodious, artistic and diverting is “Chin Chin” scheduled for the Lyceum this Saturday Matinee and evening. To Walter Wills and Roy Binder are entrusted the principal parts, supported by a company of clever comedians and a beautiful chorus. In their song “The Chinese Honeymoon,” “Go Gar Sig Gong-Jue,” and “Temple Bells,” the two clever comedians Wills and Binder make a decided hit and are always recalled again and again. In this charming fantasy with a Chinese atmosphere there are also a score of other songs that are the fascinating, whistling kine, and several unique dances that carry the snappy comedy along delightfully. This is a great play for the children matinee prices 50c, 75, $1, $1.50. Evening: 50c. $1.00, $1.50, $2.00. Seat sale Thursday morning. Phone 411.—Adv.
On May 19th, the Star-Gazette ran the following advertisement on Page 16:
“Chin Chin” Saturday
“Chin Chin” comes to the Lyceum on Saturday matinee and evening, and is a musical comedy, or concoction, that turned them away on a previous engagement. Charles Dillingham thought it over and resolved that he had a piece of theatrical property far too valuable to pack away in the storehouse. He had no concern about its fate if he could get a pair of comedians with enough talent to play the parts of the two Chinese. Walter Wills and Roy Binder came up to the specifications, and so the new “Chin Chin” with as much pains taken upon it as the original production, was sent on tour.
Yet, “Chin Chin” does not depend wholly upon the chief comedians, its melodies, already familiar every are ingratiating: “The Good-bye Girs” [sic] song. “The Love Moon” and other numbers are delightfully tuneful, and the sprightliness of the complete story is fetching.
When Mr. Dillingham puts on a play there is not a shabby spot showing anywhere, but every detail of costume and scenery is perfected to suit the most discriminating taste. Matinee 50c, 75, $1, $1.50. Evening: 50c. $1.00, $1.50, $2.00; Seat sale tomorrow.-Adv.
On May 20th, the Star-Gazette ran the following advertisement on Page 13:
Coming to the Lyceum on Saturday is Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin” the musical comedy which is one of those tales of live and wishing common to the Arabian Nights. All impossibilities are crowded into it jumbled together like the figures in a dream and 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 us Chin Hop Hi, Paderewski, Mlle. Falloffski, a Gendarme and a ventriloquist, transformations accompanied by such curies 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 us in rapid succession Chin Hop Lo, the widow, a Coolie and the Ring Master, lightening changes of mood, manner and get-up that provoked the audience to mirth. No more diverting and entertaining “comics” have come this way for many seasons. George Usher makes an agreeable and picturesque Aladdin.
The danseuse par excellence is Irene McKay, and astonishing acrobatic and step performer whose twinkling feet are full of speed and syncopation, her number with Mr. Wills 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,” “Violet.” “The Gray Dove,” and “Love Moon.” The most recalled dance and song numbers are the “Teddy Bear Dance.” (without words), “Go Gar Sig 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 hits of the play. The company is acceded to be the largest organization presenting a musical comedy on the road today, there are girls, and girls and girls. Extra musicians are carried by the company assuring patrons of the correct interpretation of the excellent musical score. Matinee 50c, 75, $1, $1.50. Evening: 50c. $1.00, $1.50, $2.00. Seats now selling.—Adv.
Advertising for the show continued every day in the Elmira Star-Gazette. Additionally, the Sayre, PA, Evening Times (about 20 miles from Elmira) ran advertising articles daily including the following the day of the show.
“CHIN CHIN” IN ELMIRA TONIGHT
Chin Chin, a musical comedy in three acts and seven sets of scenery, which has won an international reputation as one of the biggest musical comedy successes of recent years, is scheduled for an appearance at the Lyceum Theater, Elmira this evening. Catchy song numbers abound with delightful melody, lavish scenery, costumes of the Oriental and Old English style, a chorus of over thirty sprightly girlies, hilarious comedy and pantomimic work introduced by a number of clever comedians with Walter Wills and Roy Binder in the lead, all combine to afford a capital evening’s entertainment of good, clean fun.
In the first act, we have Aladdin and Violet Bond, a charming young American girl in search of a magical lamp which has the power to grant any wish of the owner. They meet at the toy shop of Abanazer, and the remaining acts and scenes are brought about gb [sic] the magical properties of the lamp found in the tea shop of Widow Twanke. In succession foll such characters as Fan Tan, the Goddess of the Light, Chin Hop Hi, Chin Hop Lo, Paderewski, the Ventriloquist and many others too numerous to mention. Evening prices $2, $1.50, $1, 50c.
Post Show Info
There is a five-day gap in my records of the Chin Chin show, but I know the show played at the Orpheum Theatre in York PA on May 28th. So, I suspect that the show played in New York or Pennsylvania during the 23rd to the 27th. I definitely need to search the New York and Pennsylvania newspapers of May 1920 searching for the show appearances.
In 1866, Henry S. Gilbert and Daniel R. Platt formed the “Lake Street Building Association” to build a public hall, the Elmira Opera House. In 1898 the hall was remodeled and renamed the Lyceum Theatre.[i] On March 6, 1904, a fire erupted which destroyed the theatre.[ii] Two theaters and six stores were destroyed in the inferno. On October 19, 1905, the New Lyceum theater opened. The theater operated until 1926 when it closed. The building was finally demolished in 1949.[iii]
Specifications for the Lyceum Theatre, Elmira
There is some conflict regarding the seating capacity. The 1921 Juliua Cahn-Gus Hill theatrical guide reports a seating capacity of 1,576[iv] and the 1913 Julius Cahn-Gus Hill guide reports 100 more, 1676. LL.F. 566, Bal 438, Gal 600, Boxes 72. In any event, it was the second largest theatre in Elmira at the time. (The Colonial seated 1816.)[v] However, the Lyceum had the largest stage in town with a proscenium opening of 38 x 28 feet. Other theater specifications include:
- Front to back wall: 40 ft
- Between side walls: 68 ft
- Apron 2 ft
- Between fly girders: 50 ft
- To rigging loft: 58 ft
- To fly gallery: 28 ft
Today, 150 Lake Street, Elmira, New York is occupied by a Five Star Bank branch office.
Review newspaper sources for other venues for “Chin Chin” to have played between May 23rd and May 27th.
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[i] Internet: Freethough Trail – “Elmira Opera House” https://freethought-trail.org/trail-map/location:elmira-opera-house/ accessed 13 Sep 2020.
[iii] Internet: Star Gazette – “History: Lyceum theatre thrilled Elmira audiences” by Jim Hare, Guest Columnist, Published August 14, 2015. https://www.stargazette.com/story/news/local/2015/08/14/elmira-history-lyceum/31705245/ accessed 13 Sep 2020.
[iv] (1921). The Julius Cahn-Gus Hill theatrical guide and moving picture directory. New York, N.Y.: Julius Cahn-Gus Hill.
[v] 1913). The Julius Cahn-Gus Hill theatrical guide and moving picture directory. New York, N.Y.: Julius Cahn-Gus Hill.