By Don Taylor
Donna joined the “Chin-Chin” show on 30 October 1919 and found no let up. Travel, show, then travel again to the next venue. It was a non-stop different town every night.
On Oct 30, 1919, Donna joined the “Chin Chin” cast. She played one night there, then traveled the 50 miles to Urbana, IL. One night there at the Illinois Theatre. Then traveled 100 miles to Bloomington, IL, and performed at the Chatterton Opera House, again for one night, November 1st, 1919. So her time with “Chin Chin” went.
The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL) is the first newspaper I’ve found that advertised that Chin Chin was coming to Bloomington’s Chatterton Opera House. It was a return engagement of the “Gigantic Musical Fantasy.” It was also advertised in “The Vidette,” the weekly student-published paper of the Illinois State Normal University.
Also, in the Vidette was:
Such entertainments as are presented to us by artists like Walter Wills and Roy Binder have more of the spirit of the early Italian pantomime with the addition of music and the modern ballet. Sometimes they resemble the origin of Spanish comedy which was generally in sharp outlines as of skeletons in quick movement as of marionettes. Though the comic spirit pervades every part of such works of which “Chin Chin,” coming to the Chatterton on Saturday, Nov. 1st, is a notable example they cannot be said to be strictly comedy “Chin Chin” is billed as a fantasy, but more strict definition might be applied by using the word extravaganza, which is a combination of comic incidents leavened by dancing in music with a rough and ready element of satire pervading the whole..
One article about the show provided some genealogical information regarding star Walter Wills.
With Chin Chin Company.
Walter Wills, a nephew of the late George Wills, the well known retired musical comedy artist, is with the Chin Chin Company, which appears at the Chatterton Saturday night. The young make is well known in Bloomington and has visited his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. George Wills, at their home, 409 East Front street, on several occasions. He is the son of the late John D. Willis, of Wills, Henshaw and Tenbroeck fame. The son is an eccentric dancer and comedian and is said to possess talent equal to his father and uncle. He will be the guest of his aunt, Mrs. George Wills, on Saturday and Sunday.
In a rare after the show review, the Pantagraph published, on the “Theaters” page, two days after the show the following
“Chin Chin” Does Well.
A large audience enjoyed an acceptable presentation of the well known musical comedy “Chin Chin” Saturday night at the Chatterton. Altho several seasons old, “Chin Chin” continues a favorite, especially with the children, and the Saturday night production was all that was expected. The piece was presented by a large company which sang acceptably the song numbers and worked industriously to put over a pleasing performance, although the comedy was not up to the standard of former companies. The saxophone sextet was an appreciated feature of the evening.
The Chatterton Theatre opened on April 7, 1910; it replaced the Grand Opera House, which fire destroyed. According to the 1921 theatrical guide, H. D. Merritt managed the 1,300 capacity theatre. Other statistics for the theatre included the following:
Proscenium opening: 34×32 ft
Front to back wall: 37 ft
Between side walls: 68 ft
Between fly girders: 50 ft
To rigging loft: 60 ft
To fly gallery: 24 ft
14 Dressing rooms
Nearby info hotels included Illinois, Hills, Commercial, Metropole, Berry, Phoenix. Railroads included the “Big 4” and Lake Erie & Western, Chicago & Alton, and the Illinois Central. Newspapers: Besides the Pantagraph, for which I have found several articles, there was also the “Bulletin,” an evening paper five days a week.
In 1923, the theater was renamed the Illini Theater. It closed in 1933. The building became part of the MARC Center. By 2011, the building operated as a comedy club for a few years and closed again in July 2014. The building became the Abundant Life in Christ Church and stands today.[ii]
[i] The Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide and Moving Picture Directory, Vol 20, 1921. Page 149.