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The Nixon Theatre was the top game in town — the place where circa 1971 I saw naked people writhe on stage in “Hair.” Not surprisingly, the hard working Jack Cole once pounded its floorboards, playing a Hungarian gypsy in “Venus in Silk” in 1935.
I’m guessing that this operetta, a precursor to American musical theater, was a schmaltzy little nostalgia for the good ‘ole Austro-Hungarian empire …
There’s Jack, as Raki the gypsy, listed at the bottom of the roster. Well cast. To put it mildly, Cole, who picked up the habit from his time with Ruth St. Denis, was an early dance “internationalist.”
The name of Cole’s nightclub partner, Alice Dudley, whom he first met dancing for Ted Shawn and then in the Humphrey-Weidman troupe, appears right above his. Dancers? Are you getting this? Jack Cole and Alice Dudley danced in i) modern dance, ii) night club and on iii) Broadway stage. There were no categories… they did it all!
The Internet auctioneer refers to “Venus” as a “rare flop” reflecting that the show opened in Pittsburgh on October 1, 1935 as an out-of-town tryout and closed the following week in Washington, D.C., failing to arrive on Broadway.
The operetta had only had its debut in Zurich in 1932 — tough times in Europe for itsJewish composer Robert Stoltz. A timeline of Stoltz’s amazing career here. I remember my Hungarian boyfriend complaining about the heavy diet of saccharine operettas he grew up on in Budapest. This must be the stuff he dreaded.
I do love how “Venus in Silk” is called, on the program, a “gay musical.” I bet it was.
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