The Enchanted Years of the Stage: Kansas City at the Crossroads of American Theater, 1870-1930
by Felicia Hardison Londré
University of Missouri Press, 2007
Cloth: 978-0-8262-1709-7 | eISBN: 978-0-8262-6585-2
Library of Congress Classification PN2277.K36L66 2007
Dewey Decimal Classification 792.09778/411


      Sarah Bernhardt, Sir Henry Irving, Edwin Booth . . . there was a time when they all played Kansas City. From star-studded engagements at ornate opera houses to risqué shows in Fourth Street honky-tonks, Kansas City was a cow town that wanted to civilize itself through the performing arts. And because it was a railway hub in the heyday of trouping, it opened its doors to America’s traveling performers.

            This book chronicles the “first golden age” of Kansas City theater, from the opening of the Coates Opera House in 1870 through the gradual decline of touring productions after World War I. Drawing on the recollections of renowned theater critic David Austin Latchaw and on newspaper archives of the era, Felicia Londré has gleaned long-lost nuggets of theater life—both the legitimate stage and popular fare—to create a fascinating account of a city and its theater culture.

            The Enchanted Years of the Stage is brimming with forgotten stories and historical illustrations that offer a new perspective on both the history of American theater and the humor and pathos of performers’ lives. It tells how James O’Neill once chased a messenger boy for ruining a big scene, while Louis James played practical jokes on fellow actors in the middle of Shakespeare performances; how police kept watch over the burlesque girls at the Folly to make sure their act wouldn’t reach the level of indecency allowed in St. Louis; how Orth Stein shot the manager of the Theatre Comique; and how Eddie Foy played his death scene in Kansas City—by dying there. Throughout the book, sidebars of Latchaw’s writing reflect the style and spirit of this bygone era.

            Offering a richer view of American theater than have accounts centered on New York, Londré’s book also yields a wealth of new insights into the social and political fabric of an emerging metropolis and testifies to the importance of the arts in the growth and reputation of a great city. By conveying the richness and complexity of road shows in Kansas City—a microcosm of the burgeoning national stage—she gives us a key piece in the mosaic that was American theater in a neglected but unforgettable era.

Felicia Hardison Londré, former Resident Dramaturg with the Missouri Repertory Theatre, is Curators’ Professor of Theatre at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. Her previous eleven books include The History of World Theater: From the English Restoration to the Present and, most recently, Words at Play: Creative Writing and Dramaturgy.
    Acknowledgments 00
    Introduction 1
    Prologue: Frontier Town Amusements 00
    Chapter 1. Colonel and Mrs. Coates Bring Culture to Cow Town 00
    Chapter 2. When the Stars Shone on Kansas City 00
    Chapter 3. Expositions, Priests of Pallas, Variety Saloons, and Tarnished Legitimacy 00
    Chapter 4. The Idealist Who Refought the Civil War and the Stock Company Revival 00
    Chapter 5. Our Mr. Judah, Beloved Coast to Coast 00
    Chapter 6. Big-time Vaudeville and Burlesque 00
    Chapter 7. Glamour's Last Gasp 00
    Appendix. The Big Hat 00
    Topics Covered in Austin Latchaw's "The Enchanted Years of the Stage" 00
    Notes 00
    Bibliography 00
    Index 00

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