FRIVOLITY MINSTRELS CELEBRATE JUBILEE
Unbroken Sequence Of 60 Years
The key to success in any organisation lies in the enthusiasm of its members. It was this key which, 60 years ago, opened the door on the Napier Frivolity Minstrels and ushered into Hawke’s Bay a mode of entertainment the originality of which has not been dulled by the passing of the years. Sixty years, and the sweeping changes in entertainment presentation which they have brought. Have in no way detracted from the appeal of the “The Frivs.”
Over 150 former members of the Napier Frivolity Minstrels sat in the Napier Municipal Theatre on Saturday night to re-live for two happy hours their days in the Friv. “circle.” As the 1957 60th anniversary show unfolded, the old troupers gained assurance that the spirit of the Frivs. which they had helped to maintain over the years, lives on.
The celebration of their 60th anniversary on Saturday was for the Napier Frivolity Minstrels a particularly joyous occasion. It came as a toast to themselves by people whose selflessness through the years has sent over £15,000 to the benefit of worthy objects. It was a time to reflect not so much on the happiness which they had brought to others, but rather the happiness which, in so doing, they had brought to themselves.
Saturday night’s presentation of the show, and a supper celebration afterwards, brought into bold relief the strong “family” bond which may be deduced as perhaps the secret formula for success which has carried the Frivs. through 60 years. It was quite apparent that among the members there was a stronger tie than mere association with a name – rather, a bond of understanding stemming from allegiance to the company’s motto: “We are here on earth to help others.”
The capacity house which greeted the Napier Frivolity Minstrels’ show on Saturday night demonstrated clearly the public appeal which the show asserts. The reaction of the audience, in fact, demonstrated perhaps more than appeal – something akin to affection. And it did more than that. The capacity house presented to former members of the company the assurance which they had come from great distances to obtain – that the Napier Frivolity Minstrels are still carrying on the tradition of good healthy entertainment for everybody.
That the people of Napier have not forgotten the Frivs. of past years was demonstrated when those attending the jubilee celebrations came once again before the footlights for a fleeting moment before Saturday night’s performance. As each ex-Friv. crossed the stage he was greeted enthusiastically by the audience.
CHAIN OF MEMORIES
A supper on the theatre stage after the show linked together again a chain of Friv. memories stretching back to before the turn of the century. It provided a time of reminiscence in word and song. Pleasure at seeing so many former members present at the celebration was expressed by Mr W. Ireland, president – himself a Friv. for over 40 years. Mr Ireland proposed the toast to the former Frivs. and, in so doing, urged the present members never to lose the spirit of the show and to maintain the high standards of entertainment and service which had been set in the past.
Jointly replying to the toast were three Frivs. old-timers – Messrs Herb King, Bert Knox and Charlie Palliser.
Memories of the earliest days of this company were brought back by Mr King when he concluded his reply with a song which had brought tears to the eyes of the audience away back in 1898. It was a sentimental song, and 80 year old Mr King astonished and delighted the gathering with a voice retaining the tilt and the expression which made him a popular favourite in the days when the Frivs. were first finding themselves in public demand.
TURN OF CENTURY
“Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy” sang Bert Knox in his reply. The century had turned. It was 1907 and comedian Bert Knox was back before the footlights in Napier’s old Theatre Royal in Tennyson street. As he sang “Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy,” the audience joined in.
Bert Knox conjured up memories of some of the other early Friv. commedians [comedians] – Vic McGaffaney, Wattie Allen, Jack Biss, Frank Peat and others. Each in his day was the idol of the audience with his jokes about the old railway station, “these terrible automobiles,” and the rest.
The enthusiasm of the former members for the present company’s performance was expressed by Mr Bert Zeigler [Ziegler] in proposing a toast. Mr Zeigler, that polished “Mr Interlocutor” of the years following the First World War, made on remember those who, over the years, had filled the position in the centre of the Friv. circle – Charlie Prebble, Pat Murphy, Bill Keen, Harry Sutton, George Bullivant, Bill Quarrie, May Macdonald, Bert Earney, Bob Ross and Ted Herniman.
Mr Ziegler, too, displayed the richness of his singing voice and his natural flair fro comedy when he sang “Up From Somerset” and “The Sergeant-Major on Parade” two songs which set the audience in Napier’s old Municipal Theatre laughing and stamping in the mid-twenties – and again at Saturdays night’s celebration.
The spotlight was focused on the present company when Mr Sid Henney replied to the toast. Mr Henney, producer of the show and author of the pantomime. Paid tribute to the members of the company, who, he said, had worked hard to present a first-class show for the jubilee year. He assured the former members that the 1957 Frivs. retained in full the spirit of the company and appreciated the warm reception which their performance had received.
The spotlight of the present fell, among others, on Miss Joan Leonard, ballet mistress, who took over the task when Miss Ivena Pothan left some three years ago. On Miss Leonard’s shoulders fell the responsibility of the dances and foot movements of the entire performance and the tributes paid to the smoothness and effectiveness of this phase by past members was her reward.
Frivs. for a considerable number of years, and still with the company, are Len Dadson (cornerman and Dame in the pantomime) and Stella Astwood, whose delightful singing voice has thrilled audiences in Hawke’s Bay on a great many occasions.
Photo caption – “Miss Joan Leonard. . . ballet mistress and designer of costumes.”
One of his memorable comedy roles was relived when Mr Ireland sang “No One Loves A Fairy When She’s Forty.” Mr Ireland’s song took those present even farther back, to the days of Eric Amner, Jack O’Donoghue, Bill Wilkie, Percy Spiller, Roy Girling, Jack Hawke, Vern McCutcheon and Jim Hamilton, to mention but a few. His relationship with the Frivs. over 40 years was aptly summed up by a speaker at the function who said: “He represents enthusiasm standing on two legs.”
Age has not caught with the smooth tenor voice of Jack McCarthy, whose singing on Saturday night showed just why he was a popular favourite of years gone by. The falsetto singing of Tom Skittrup, and baritone numbers by Eric Poynter, represented various periods of the Frivs. career.
Playing as accompanist was Jack Colbert again in a position which he occupied for a great many years. Mr Colbert’s remarkable memory for music was displayed when, without hesitation, he accompanied singers for whom he has not played for years.
RECORD OF SERVICE
In the 60 years which have passed since the Frivs. first took the boards at Eskdale they have played in just about every centre in Hawke’s Bay and in many places outside the province. They have gone into work camps and to out-of-the-way villages to give the people songs, quips and laughs.
The Napier Frivolity Minstrels’ jubilee show, to be presented again to-night and next Saturday night in he Napier Municipal Theatre, will give people of Napier an opportunity of showing their appreciation of what the Frivs. have done for the community. For the Frivs. the Napier performances are “the big shows” in their annual season, but they are incidental in the programme of more than 20 performances each year which bring laughter and gaiety to people over the length and breadth of Hawke’s Bay.
A special tribute to the late Mr S. P. Spiller was paid by the president of the Napier Frivolity Minstrels, Mr W. Ireland, at the jubilee function on Saturday night.
“The late Percy Spiller was one of the original Frivs. and it was largely due to his enthusiasm and guidance up to the time of his death in 1949 that the company has been so successful. We will always remember him.” said Mr Ireland.
Jubilee Show Is Jaunty Production
The Napier Frivolity Minstrels 1957 show – the latest in an unbroken sequence of 60 years – is a jaunty production of song, dance and humour. It is never urbane, seldom subtle, but always outstanding fun, and a big house at the Napier Municipal Theatre on Saturday night gave the company resounding applause at the curtain.
Following the pattern of recent years, the show is divided into two parts – the first a bright, fast-moving variety concert, and the second, a fun-packed pantomime in 4 scenes.
What the performers may have lackedin [lacked in] artistry, they more than made up for with pace, spontaneity and liveliness. The settings for both the minstrel numbers and the pantomime were simple, but colourful and appropriate. The costuming also was excellent.
The first half opened with the whole company singing an old favourite, “Let’s Have a Basinful of the Briny,” followed closely by cornerman Mr Bones (Len Dadson) drawling tunefully through “Down Chesapeake Bay.” This , and the later numbers by the other three cornermen, assisted by the rest of the company, were bouncy minstrel numbers that have timeless toe-tapping appeal of cheerfulness. They are “My Gal’s a High-born Lady.” by Mr Tambo (Cyril Eagle), “ See Dixie First,” by Moses ( Bob Ross), and “How’s everything in Dixie,” by Rastus (Trev. Dockery). Also strictly in minstrel mood was a “Darkie Melody” expertly played on the banjo by John Williams.
And between each item there was always a guffaw to be enjoyed from the unsophisticated quips by the cornermen and Mr Interlocutor, a role played with easy aplomb by Jack Stevenson.
Highspot of humour in the first half came when the Sexttette, with pungent parody to the tune of “Early in the Morning,” poked fun at Napier personalities and have a fresh slant on some current controversies. Each member of the Sextette sang two topical verses and the audience loved every line.
Top vocalist was Stella Astwood, who slowed the tempo and mellowed the mood with her liquid soprano in the romantic number, “ If All the Stars Were Mine.” Another vocal which appealed was the harmony combination of Jill Viggers and Pam Skittrup, who sang “ At the Close of a Long, Long Day.” It was a charming song pleasantly sung.
Joan and Noeline Leonard moved smoothly through a racy dance interpretation of the hit song “Sluefoot”; and in the role of the “Friv. Tap Troupe,” the “Frivettes,” as the background to Margaret Langstone in “You’ve Got to Get Busy” and other bright numbers, danced with pert vivacity.
The pantomime, “Captain Kidd,” tells the story of a pusillanimous pirate, with Vic Viggers in the title role as “half-brother” to the famous sea dog of the same name. His vivacious chief mate, Polly Perkins (Joan Leonard) and crew want him to sail from port in which they have been at anchor for three years. The captain, who is addicted to forty winks and susceptible to sea sickness, has hilarious adventures with cannibals, beautiful dusky maidens and a ship-wrecked sailor before the curtain falls.
As the star of the pantomime, Vic Viggers proved himself an outstanding “prop” comedian. He had good material to work with, but if ever there was a slackening of pace, or a flatness, it was he who quickly rescued the plot and restored the speed and buoyancy the show needed.
Len Dadson played the part of Dame Snippet, a baker of lethal cakes, and romantic interest focussed on the principal boy, Richard Hawkins (Margaret Langstone) and principal girl, Susan Snippet (Jillian Viggers). Shipwrecked on the cannibal island and reluctant to be rescued, was Don Sebastian (Jock Stevenson), a monocled Englishman with an Oxford accent. Noeline Leonard and Jill Alsop were two shapely cannibal maidens, and big, black and hungry as the cannibals, Moolu, Loolu and Oompah, were Cyril Eagle, Trev Dockery and Colin Wells.
It was always difficult to judge who was getting the most enjoyment – the cast or the audience. It was this natural spontaneity and high-spirited playing by the cast that got across the footlights and enabled everyone in the hall to participate in a grand evening of fun.
Photo caption – Mr Vic. Viggers…versatile comedian of the troup.
CAPTAIN KIDD WRITTEN BY NAPIER MAN
The Napier Frivolity Minstrels show is an all Hawke’s Bay production. Not only are the musicians and performers from the province, the pantomime – that popular second half of the show – is the work of J. Sidney Henney, of Napier. A member of the Napier Repertory Players and currently president of the Napier Operatic Society. Mr Henney has written the Frivs. pantomimes for the past seven years and his produced them since 1953. He is also the company’s honorary secretary.
He produces both parts of the show, but acknowledges great assistance from Miss Joan Leonard, who this year designed the costumes, devised the dance routines and sings and dances in the show as well as taking a big part in the pantomime.
Mr Henney is well known for his radio children’s plays and comedy sketches. His background of association with amateur theatrical groups has helped him immensely, he says. But despite the time and hard work involved, he insists he gets as much fun out of writing the shows as anyone gets from acting in them or watching them from the audience.
Photo caption -“Mr J. C. Henney, author-producer of the Napier Frivolity Minstrels’ 1957 pantomime ‘Captain Kidd.’”
TROUPE HAS GIVEN £15,000 AWAY
At the conclusion of Saturday night’s performance of the Napier Frivolity Minstrels’ 1957 show the audience at the Napier Municipal Theatre rose to its feet and gave the company a standing ovation.
After the curtain had been applauded up several times Mr F. W. Browne took the stage and, on behalf of the Thirty Thousand Club, congratulated the Frivs. on their unbroken tradition of 60 years of annual performances. “Over the years the Frivs. have given about £15,000 to local charities.” he said, “This is a wonderful record and their entertainment and the wok they do has been welcomed by everyone in the district.”
FROM MANY PLACES
Saturday night’s performance and the company’s record over the years must have been a great joy to the “ex-Frivs.” who had come from many parts of the North Island to be present at the 60th birthday. “I would like to express the wish that in the years ahead the company’s work will go from one success to another.” said Mr Browne. The audience then rose and gave the company a resounding reception.
Replying on behalf of the Frivs. , the president, Mr W. Ireland, thanked those who had helped the company in 1957 and in previous years. He said that the Frivs. had played in most North Island centres during the past 60 years, and even in some South Island towns. But it was fitting that they should hold their jubilee celebrations in their home town, he said.
THE OLDEST FORMER Frivolity Minstrel attending the week-end celebration of the Napier troupe’s 60th anniversary was Mr H. King (right), who joined in 1898. With him at left is Mr B. Knox, popular comedian at the turn of the century.”
President Cuts Jubilee Cake
THE CUTTING OF THE JUBILEE CAKE by the president, Mr W. Ireland, was a highlight of the Napier Frivolity Minstrels 60th anniversary celebrations on Saturday night. Mr Ireland is pictured above cutting the cake. Behind him is Mr H. King, 80 year old former Friv., who was the oldest member of the company attending the celebrations.
THE NAPIER FRIVOLITY MINSTRELS OF 1957. This is the company which on Saturday presented the jubilee minstrel show and pantomime, “Captain Kidd”. The cast from left to right, is :- Front row: Messrs L. Dodson, T. Dockary, Misses J. Alsop, M. Thomson, Mr. H. K. Stevenson, Mrs D. Mayo, Miss B. Welch, MESSRS R. Ross and C. Eagle.
Middle row: Messrs J. Seton, W. Mitchell, W. Mayo, D. Robinson, Mesdames R. Mardon, D. Smith, Messrs E. Collier, H. Boston, N. Etheridge and J. S. Henney.
Back row: Messrs A. Single, C. Wells, R. Ross, Jr. W. Mardon, Mrs S. Astwood, Mr. D. Le Prou, Miss M. Langstone, Mr R. Willis, Mrs J. Viggers, Mr W. Ireland, Miss J. Leonard, Mr L. Hardgrave, Miss P. Skittrup, Mr T. Atkin, Miss n. Leonard, Messrs V. Viggers, K. Skows, J. Williams and S. Smith.