'Bright Eyes' tours the hinterlands

Caroline C. Morris

Catalog Number: 2017.fic.010

Need last-minute inspiration for a Halloween costume? Take a cue from early-twentieth-century stage actor Florence Holbrook: big hair with a bigger hat is always an attention-grabber.

From February through May 1910, Bright Eyes played to crowds at the New York Theatre and the Grand Opera House, both in New York City. The “musical play” follows the lives of an unemployed young actress and her playwright husband as they struggle to find a producer for the husband’s play. Hijinks ensue after they rope in the [male] president of a female seminary. The original performance featured veteran actors Cecil Lean and Florence Holbrook, both of whom received positive reviews from critics who were otherwise lukewarm about the play. (The New York Times critic belittled the play as “a slightly entertaining piece, with occasional bits of merit.”) Holbrook brought energy to the production, while Lean brought comedy. In the play’s most popular scene, Cecil Lean reads out weekly notices to a country church choir, using shades of “hesitation, nearsightedness, blunders, gravity, deprecation, modesty, exultation, cheerfulness, and sadness” that had the audience rolling in the aisles.

As was common, when Bright Eyes left the New York stage, it showed up on stages in small and mid-sized cities around the country. The play toured eastern Wisconsin in February 1912 and northern Iowa in 1914, and it is likely the advertisement in the Historical Society’s collection dates from then. “Bright Eyes hasn’t much of a story,” said the Waterloo (IA) Evening Courier in 1914, “but it is a sparkling little ‘show,’ pert as to action and clean, and whiles away the time much more pleasantly than many of the [shows] that have preceded it.”

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on     October 31, 2015.

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