The German Reed Entertainments were founded in 1855 and operated by Thomas German Reed (1817–1888) together with his wife, Priscilla German Reed (née Horton) (1818–1895). At a time when the theatre in London was seen as a disreputable place, the German Reed family provided family-friendly entertainments for forty years, showing that respectable theatre could be popular.
The entertainments were held at the intimate Royal Gallery of Illustration, Lower Regent Street, and later at St. George's Hall, Langham Place, in London. Thomas and Priscilla German Reed usually appeared in them, together with a small group of players. They engaged talented newcomers, such as Frederic Clay, W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Law, as well as established writers such as F. C. Burnand, to create many of the entertainments. Thomas German Reed composed the music for many of the entertainments himself.
This form of entertainment consisted of musical plays "of a refined nature". During the early Victorian era, visiting the theatre was considered distasteful to the respectable public. Shakespeare and classic British plays were presented, but the London stage became dominated by risque farces, burlesques and bad adaptations of French operettas. Jessie Bond wrote,
The stage was at a low ebb, Elizabethan glories and Georgian artificialities had alike faded into the past, stilted tragedy and vulgar farce were all the would-be playgoer had to choose from, and the theatre had become a place of evil repute to the righteous British householder.... A first effort to bridge the gap was made by the German Reed Entertainers....
The German Reed Entertainments became the first respectable venue for dramatic amusement to which the public could safely bring their children, presenting gentle, intelligent, comic musical entertainment. Their example showed that respectable theatre could be popular and encouraged successors such as Gilbert and Sullivan.
In 1855, the first performance of "Miss P. Horton's Illustrative Gatherings," took place at St. Martin's Hall, with Thomas playing the piano. Mrs. Reed had been a popular performer of operetta, Shakespeare and other theatre pieces since the 1830s. The Reeds' entertainments consisted, at first, of character sketches and songs by the Reeds.In 1856, the entertainments moved to the more intimate Gallery of Illustration. These eventually became "Mr. and Mrs. German Reeds Entertainments". They called the establishment, euphemistically, the "Gallery of Illustration," rather than a theatre, the actors were "entertainers", and the pieces were called "entertainments" or "illustrations", eschewing the words "play", "extravaganza", "melodrama" or "burlesque". Reed himself composed the music for many of these pieces and often appeared in them, along with Mrs. German Reed. There was nothing else like this establishment in London, and the Gallery rapidly achieved popularity.
The Gallery was an intimate 500-seat theatre. The accompaniment consisted of piano at first, and later also a harmonium and sometimes a harp. At first, the entertainments utilized a cast of three; but by the mid-1860s, they had expanded to pieces with a cast of four. Often the pieces' plots involved mistaken identities and disguises. From 1860 to 1868, the German Reeds were assisted by John Orlando Parry, a pianist, mimic, parodist and humorous singer (one of George Grossmith's inspirations).He created a new type of musical and dramatic monologue that became popular. The earliest entertainments included Holly Lodge and The Enraged Musicians (1855); William Brough's A Month from Home and My Unfinished Opera (1857); The Pyramid by Shirley Brooks (1864); The Peculiar Family by Brough (1865); The Yachting Cruise by F. C. Burnand (1866); Our Quiet Chateau by Robert Reece (1867); and Inquire Within by Burnand (1868).
As time went on, the Reeds added a dramatic pieces and brief comic operas designed for a small number of characters. Reed experimented with what he called opera di camera - small chamber operas by young composers. The German Reeds were able to attract fine young composers such as Molloy, Frederic Clay, Arthur Sullivan, Charles King Hall. [ citation needed ]and Alfred Cellier, the best scenic designers for their tiny stage, and the best young writers from Punch and Fun magazines.
The dramatist W. S. Gilbert wrote the librettos for six entertainments presented by the German Reeds from 1869 to 1875, some of them with music by Reed himself, including No Cards , Ages Ago , Our Island Home , A Sensation Novel , Happy Arcadia , and Eyes and No Eyes . Several of these pieces had ideas in embryonic form that would later re-appear in the Savoy Operas. Ages Ago, for instance, had a gallery of portraits that come to life, an idea re-used in Ruddigore . Mrs. German Reed's performances inspired Gilbert to create some of his famous contralto roles. German Reed also mounted the first professional production of Arthur Sullivan and F. C. Burnand's Cox and Box and commissioned a second opera from the pair, The Contrabandista . Given the German Reeds' role in both Gilbert's and Sullivan's first operatic successes, one wag commented that the Gilbert and Sullivan operas were "cradled among the Reeds."
Arthur Cecil joined the German Reeds in No Cards in 1869, remaining for five years. Fanny Holland first performed at the Gallery in 1869 in Ages Ago and appeared in scores of the entertainments continuously until 1895, except for two years at other theatres.In 1870, Richard Corney Grain, a clever, refined, and humorous society entertainer (a great friend and rival of Grossmith's), appeared in his first Gallery entertainment, Our Island Home, soon performing his own sketches, taking over where Parry had left off. He also remained with the German Reeds until 1895
Other German Reed entertainments included Our Quiet Chateau (1868) by Reece with music by Virginia Gabriel; Inquire Within (1868, Parry's last entertainment); Beggar My Neighbour (1870) and Number 204, by Burnand; Near Relations (1871) by Arthur Sketchley;King Christmas (1871, the first appearance by the German Reeds' son, Alfred); Charity Begins at Home (1872), with music by Alfred Cellier and words by B. C. Stephenson; My Aunt's Secret (1872); Very Catching (1872); Milord's Well (1873); Dora's Dream , with music by Alfred Cellier and words by Arthur Cecil (1873); Once in a Century by Gilbert à Beckett; In Possession; Babel and Bijouand; Back from India by Henry Pottinger Stephens; Our New Doll’s House by W. Wye.
After the retirement of Thomas, in 1871 his son Alfred German Reed (1846-1895), also an actor, carried on the business in partnership with his mother and then with Grain. In 1874 they moved the entertainments to the St. George's Hall, Regent Street, and the German Reeds also took the entertainments on provincial tours. In 1874, Leonora Braham (who created several of the soprano heroine roles in the Savoy Operas in the 1880s) joined the German Reeds. Fanny Holland's husband Arthur Law also joined the company and wrote, as well as acted in, many of the entertainments.Some of Law's pieces for the Gallery included Enchantment, A Night Surprise, A Happy Bungalow (1877), Cherry Tree Farm (1881) and Nobody’s Fault (1882), both with music by Hamilton Clarke, All at Sea (1881) and The Head of the Poll (1882), composed by Eaton Faning, which received good reviews.
Mrs. German Reed retired in 1879. The deaths of Alfred German Reed and Grain, both in 1895, effectively ended the entertainments,although the name continued to be used by others for some years thereafter.
George Grossmith was an English comedian, writer, composer, actor, and singer. His performing career spanned more than four decades. As a writer and composer, he created 18 comic operas, nearly 100 musical sketches, some 600 songs and piano pieces, three books and both serious and comic pieces for newspapers and magazines.
The Opera Comique was a 19th-century theatre constructed in Westminster, London, between Wych Street, Holywell Street and the Strand. It opened in 1870 and was demolished in 1902, to make way for the construction of the Aldwych and Kingsway.
Sir Francis Cowley Burnand, usually known as F. C. Burnand, was an English comic writer and prolific playwright, best known today as the librettist of Arthur Sullivan's opera Cox and Box.
Alfred Cellier was an English composer, orchestrator and conductor.
The Contrabandista, or The Law of the Ladrones, is a two-act comic opera by Arthur Sullivan and F. C. Burnand. It premiered at St. George's Hall, in London, on 18 December 1867 under the management of Thomas German Reed, for a run of 72 performances. There were brief revivals in Manchester in 1874 and America in 1880. In 1894, it was revised into a new opera, The Chieftain, with a completely different second act.
Leonora Braham, born Leonora Abraham, was an English opera singer and actress primarily known as the creator of principal soprano roles in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas.
Edward Solomon was an English composer, conductor, orchestrator and pianist. He died at age 39 by which time he had written dozens of works produced for the stage, including several for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, including The Nautch Girl (1891). Early in his career, he was a frequent collaborator of Henry Pottinger Stephens. He had a bigamous marriage with Lillian Russell in the 1880s.
Thomas German Reed, known after 1844 as simply German Reed was an English composer, musical director, actor, singer and theatrical manager of the Victorian era. He was best known for creating the German Reed Entertainments, together with his actress wife, a genre of musical plays that made theatre-going respectable at a time when the stage was considered disreputable.
Ages Ago, sometimes stylised as Ages Ago! or Ages Ago!!, is a musical entertainment with a libretto by W. S. Gilbert and music by Frederic Clay that premiered on 22 November 1869 at the Royal Gallery of Illustration. It marked the beginning of a seven-year collaboration between Gilbert and Clay. The piece was a critical and popular success and was revived many times, including at St. George's Hall, London in 1870 and 1874, and in New York in 1880.
No Cards is a "musical piece in one act" for four characters, written by W. S. Gilbert, with music composed and arranged by German Reed. It was first produced at the Royal Gallery of Illustration, Lower Regent Street, London, under the management of German Reed, opening on 29 March 1869 and closing on 21 November 1869. The work is a domestic farce of mistaken identities and inept disguises, as two men desperately compete to marry a wealthy young lady. One is young and poor, and the other is a rich miser. Each disguises himself as her guardian.
Fanny Holland was an English singer and comic actress primarily known as the creator of principal soprano roles in numerous German Reed Entertainments.
This is a selected list of W. S. Gilbert's works, including all that have their own Wikipedia articles. For a complete list of Gilbert's dramatic works, see List of W. S. Gilbert dramatic works.
Our Island Home is a one-act musical entertainment with a libretto by W. S. Gilbert and music by Thomas German Reed that premiered on 20 June 1870 at the Royal Gallery of Illustration. The piece has five characters and is "biographical", in that the characters in the original production played themselves, except that they were given personalities opposite to their actual personalities.
St. George's Hall was a theatre located in Langham Place, off Regent Street in the West End of London. It was built in 1867 and closed in 1966. The hall could accommodate between 800 and 900 persons, or up to 1,500 persons including the galleries. The architect was John Taylor of Whitehall.
Priscilla Horton, later Priscilla German Reed, was an English singer and actress, known for her role as Ariel in W. C. Macready's production of The Tempest in 1838 and "fairy" burlesques at Covent Garden Theatre. Later, she was known, along with her husband, Thomas German Reed, for establishing and performing in the family-friendly German Reed Entertainments. There, she was a mentor to W. S. Gilbert, and her performances inspired Gilbert to create some of his famous contralto roles.
The Royal Gallery of Illustration was a 19th-century performance venue located at 14 Regent Street in London. It was in use between 1850 and 1873.
Charles King Hall (1845–1895), often credited as King Hall, was an English composer and church organist in Victorian London. He favored sentimental ballads, dance music, organ and piano pieces, and "much church music." He also specialized in arranging for the keyboard and voice the works of famous composers such as Handel, Gounod and Mendelssohn. Active in the London theatre, he contributed regularly to the German Reed Entertainments at St. George's Hall, Langham Place. King Hall's entry in A Biographical Dictionary of Musicians calls his German Reed operettas "his most popular works."
William Arthur Law, better known as Arthur Law, was an English playwright, actor and scenic designer.
Arthur Cecil Blunt, better known as Arthur Cecil, was an English actor, comedian, playwright and theatre manager. He is probably best remembered for playing the role of Box in the long-running production of Cox and Box, by Arthur Sullivan and F. C. Burnand, at the Royal Gallery of Illustration.
Richard Corney Grain, known by his stage name Corney Grain, was an entertainer and songwriter of the late Victorian era.