“THE HANDSOMEST LADIES IN THE PROFESSION”: ORIGINAL PLAYBILL FOR THE “FAREWELL SEASON” OF THE BLACK CROOK, FAMOUS PRECURSOR TO THE BROADWAY MUSICAL
(DRAMA) BARRAS, Charles M. and BAKER, Thomas. Howard & Carle’s Black Crook. [New York: Niblo’s Garden, circa 1870]. Narrow broadside (9-1/2 by 24-1/1 inches). $450.
Scarce original broadside playbill for The Black Crook, “considered a prototype of the modern musical in that its popular songs and dances are interspersed throughout a unifying play and performed by the actors” (Morley).
After attending an 1868 performance of The Black Crook in New York, Mark Twain wrote that this innovative musical “debauched many a pure mind.” First performed on September 12, 1866 at New York’s Niblo’s Garden, The Black Crook introduced characteristics that identify many of today’s American musicals: chorus girls, elaborate costumes, songs with provocative overtones, and ornate production numbers. The Black Crook was born by accident. When a Parisian ballet troupe, scheduled to perform at the New York Academy of Music, was left without an engagement when the Academy was destroyed by fire, the promoters approached Niblo’s Garden to see if their dancers could be of use. Niblo’s offered them a chance to participate in a musical spectacle then in rehearsal, a “burletta” written by Charles Barras after von Weber’s romantic opera Der Freischütz, with songs by Thomas Baker. At the opening, the scantily dressed dancers, first to perform the Can-Can on an American stage, delighted and shocked audiences. “They were tall, and their costumes were padded in appropriate places to cater for the tastes of the time; they wore pink tights, but word spread (not discouraged by the management) that they were showing a great deal more flesh than was usual. The show’s combination of girls, costumes, dancing and expensive sets led to a run of 475 performances, outstanding for the time” (Donald Clarke). The performance advertised in this wonderful broadside playbill starred two famous vaudevillians, Charlie Howard and John H. Carle.
Lightly embrowned, scarce and in nearly fine condition.