The Shop Girl  (Alfred Lester, Evelyn Laye, Bates)   (Palaeophonics 132)
Item# PE0278
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The Shop Girl  (Alfred Lester, Evelyn Laye, Bates)   (Palaeophonics 132)
PE0278. THE SHOP GIRL (H.J.W. Dam & Ivan Caryll), recorded 1920, w. Arthur Wood Cond. Gaiety Theatre Ensemble; Alfred Lester, Evelyn Laye, Thorpe Bates, Roy Royston, Mamie Watson, Nancy Lovatt & Leonard Mackay; Extras from the 1894 Production, by Ellaline Terris [1903]; David Seymour [1894-97]; John W. Myers [1898]; Ellaline Terris & Seymour Hicks [1932]; Alice Leamer - live at Royal Command Variety Performance, 29 Oct., 1935. [Terris' marvelous 1932 rendition of 'I want yer, my Honey' alone is worth the price of this magnificent CD! Just fascinating is Alice Leamer's live recording of 'And her golden hair was hanging down her back' - made all the more compelling being performed with an appreciative and enthusiastic audience!] (England) Palaeophonics 132, w.Elaborate ‘The Play’ 24pp. Brochure replete with numerous photos of the Gaiety Theatre 1920 production & biographies. Excellently transferred from the legendary Acoustic 78rpm HMV rarities.


“THE SHOP GIRL was a musical comedy in two acts written by H. J. W. Dam, with Lyrics by Dam and Adrian Ross and music by Ivan Caryll, and additional numbers by Lionel Monckton and Ross. It was first produced by George Edwardes at the Gaiety Theatre in London, opening on 24 November 1894. The piece ran for an extremely successful 546 performances, transferring to Daly's Theatre. It starred Seymour Hicks, George Grossmith, Jr., Arthur Williams, Edmund Payne, Willie Warde and Ada Reeve, who (being pregnant) was replaced in the cast by Kate Cutler and then Hicks' wife, Ellaline Terriss. Topsy Sinden danced in the piece.

The success of A GAIETY GIRL in 1893 confirmed to Edwardes that the lighter ‘musical comedy’ was the right path for musical theatre. THE SHOP GIRL heralded a new era in musical comedy, and the critics were amazed that the author had provided such a coherent story, as there had been hardly any story at all in burlesque. Over a dozen copies followed at the Gaiety Theatre (including MY GIRL, THE CIRCUS GIRL, and A RUNAWAY GIRL) over the next two decades and were widely imitated by other producers and playwriting teams. They also led to the next level of sophistication in the integrated musical comedy at Daly's Theatre and elsewhere in London.

THE SHOP GIRL achieved immediate popularity. It introduced to London audiences a cleaner, more respectable form of musical comedy than the previous ‘musical farces’, which had been more closely related to burlesque. Indeed, during the run of the show, some of the racier lines were removed, as Edwardes recognised that the future of musicals lay in appealing to the respectable Victorian audience. In addition, at Hicks' urging, the romantic couple was designed as less sentimental and more mischievous and light hearted. But it was not lacking in sex appeal. It was the first show to feature Edwardes' Gaiety Girls, who were to feature in all of his similar musical comedies.

Caryll, the music director at the Gaiety, conducted the performances of the piece himself. One of the most famous songs from the show was ‘Her golden hair was hanging down her back’. As the run went on, songs were constantly changed and new business frequently introduced, especially when there were cast changes. This also began a pattern for musicals of the era.

Hicks and Grossmith transferred with the production to Broadway in 1895, under the management of Charles Frohman. Connie Ediss and Bertie Wright joined the cast. The New York production of THE SHOP GIRL opened at Palmer's Theatre on 28 October, 1895 and played for 72 performances.

Hicks and Alfred Butt revived the piece in London in 1920, at the Gaiety, where it was again a hit, running for 327 performances. Hicks directed and Warde choreographed. The cast included Evelyn Laye, Alfred Lester, Thorpe Bates, Roy Royston, etc.

Alfred Leslie Lester was an English actor and comedian. Born into a theatrical family, he learnt his craft touring in melodramas, as a young man, but made his reputation as a comedian in musical comedy, music hall and, later, revue. Lester's gloomy stage persona was seen to its quintessential comic effect in the long-running musical THE ARCADIANS (1909) in which he delivered optimistic lyrics in a lugubrious manner. Among his other hit shows were THE NEW ALADDIN (1906), HAVANA (1908) and THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916). His co-stars included George Grossmith Jr., Phyllis Dare, George Robey and Violet Lorraine.

In 1905 Lester was engaged to play in a musical comedy, THE OFFICERS' MESS – OR HOW THEY GOT OUT OF IT at Terry's Theatre, London, where he was spotted by Alfred Butt, who ran variety shows at the Palace Theatre. Lester made an immediate impression with his monologue ‘The Sceneshifter’, in which a gloomy stagehand gives his ideas for the improvement and brightening of HAMLET. He was booked for further monologues and sketches by Butt, and in 1906 he appeared at the Gaiety Theatre in London as the Lost Constable in George Grossmith Jr.'s musical THE NEW ALADDIN, in which the reviewer in THE TIMES judged his performance the funniest thing in the show. At the same theatre he played Nix, the bo'sun, in another musical HAVANA in 1908; again, his performance received critical praise as the best thing in the piece.

THE ARCADIANS in 1909 confirmed Lester's reputation as a leading West End performer. In a cast that included Phyllis Dare, Dan Rolyat and Florence Smithson, he was singled out by THE TIMES, which found him ‘more hilariously melancholy than ever: the audience rocked to hear him sing that his motto was 'always merry and bright.' In 1912 he played Vodka in THE GRASS WIDOWS, and the following year was Byles in THE PEARL GIRL. Between runs in musical comedy he returned to his music hall monologues. WHO'S WHO IN THE THEATRE noted that Lester had ‘the unique distinction of being the only person who has been selected to appear at both the Royal Command Theatrical and Music Hall performances’.

In May 1915 Lester reprised his original role in a revival of THE ARCADIANS, and among his most celebrated shows of the First World War years was a revue, THE BING BOYS ARE HERE (1916) in which he and George Robey co-starred with Violet Lorraine. THE OBSERVER commented, ‘Nothing so funny in revue has ever been seen in London … the three together are almost too much to endure for three hours’.

His later roles in musical comedy were Umpicof in ROUND THE MAP (1917), Hu-Du in SHANGHAI (1918), George in THE ECLIPSE (1919) and Miggles in a revival of THE SHOP GIRL (1920). He starred in four more revues: PINS AND NEEDLES (1921), FUN OF THE FAYRE (1921), RATS (1923), and his final show, THE PUNCH BOWL (1924). THE TIMES considered the last, ‘with its brilliant changes of character in the various scenes, was technically perhaps better than anything he had ever done’.

During the run of the THE PUNCH BOWL Lester was taken ill and had to leave the cast. Suffering from a chest complaint he was recommended to go to a warmer country, and spent some weeks in Morocco. Feeling considerably better he began the journey home by train, but he was taken ill again en route and died of pneumonia at a nursing home in Madrid.”

- Wikipedia

“Evelyn Laye was an English theatre and musical film actress, who was active on the London light opera stage. Born as Elsie Evelyn Lay in Bloomsbury, London, and known professionally as Evelyn Laye, and informally as Bo . Her parents were both actors and her father a theatre manager. She made her first stage appearance in 1915 at the Theatre Royal, Brighton as Nang-Ping in MR. WU, and her first London appearance at the East Ham Palace on 24 April 1916, aged 14, in the revue HONI SOIT, in which she subsequently toured.

For the first few years of her career she mainly played in musical comedy and operetta, including GOING UP in 1918. Among her successes during the 1920s were PHI-PHI (1922), MADAME POMPADOUR (1923), THE DOLLAR PRINCESS, BLUE EYES (1928) and LILAC TIME. She made her Broadway début in 1929 in the American première of Noël Coward's BITTER SWEET and appeared in several early Hollywood film musicals. She continued acting in pantomimes such as THE SLEEPING BEAUTY and CINDERELLA. After the Second World War, she had less success, but she returned to the West End in 1954, in the musical WEDDING IN PARIS. She also acted several times opposite her second husband, actor Frank Lawton, including in the 1956 sitcom MY HUSBAND AND I. Other stage successes included SILVER WEDDING (1957).

Thomas Thorpe-Bates studied at the Guildhall and the Royal Academy of Music. He sang as principal baritone at provincial Music Festivals, Choral Societies, Promenade Concerts and the Hallé and Brand Lane Concerts, Manchester. He played in THE YANKEE PRINCESS in New York in 1922. He also appeared in THE MAID OF THE MOUNTAINS, THE REBEL MAID and many other plays. Bates’ daughter was the actress Peggy Thorpe-Bates, perhaps best remembered as one of three actresses who played Hilda Rumpole in the TV adaptations of John Mortimer’s RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY novels.”

- Ned Ludd

“If you are interested in what original audiences of early 20th century English operetta and musical comedy heard, there is a great source for such recordings – the record label Paleophonics. Dominic Combe prepares CDs for them from his huge collection of shellacs and a few cylinders.

I came across these somewhat hard-to-find CDs on the website of the mail-order company NORBECK, PETERS AND FORD, ( which is specialized in historical performances from the beginning of recorded sound all the way through to the 1960s.

There are now over fifty Paleophonics CDs, and more are being prepared or scheduled for future release. Each CD comes with a lavishly illustrated program booklet with reviews, information about the shows and fantastic publicity photographs, and artwork from the original London productions, in the form of reproductions of the magazine PLAY PICTORIAL.”