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The Girl and the Moon

Advertising; The Girl and the Moon

The title of this musical comedy, The Girl and the Moon comes from an ancient Siberian fairy tale that recounts the story of how a very lonely moon came to earth one day and tried to spirit-away into the sky, a young girl as a celestial companion. The attempt is a complete failure, and the moon finds it must offer many timeless gifts to win the girl’s forgiveness. The first literary reference dates to the 1750s.

In the Spring of 1905 this musical of the same name was to be Elmer E. Vance’s first production for the theater. Vance was a native Ohioan, born in 1870, who started his career with the railroad as a dispatcher and telegraph operator. He had other ambitions and by the time he turned thirty he was well on his way to becoming a Broadway producer.

The Girl and the Moon opened in previews in Norwich, Connecticut, on March 20th with Beatrice Vance in the title role. Other cast members included William Clifton, Harry Laurence and Gracelyn Whitehouse.  The New York Times production notice, March 21, 1905 offered no criticism but stated that the show will be taken to New York for a run in April [1905].

Searches of a Broadway database and the American Musical Memories website offer no evidence of any show by this name ever being produced on Broadway. That would make this advertising postcard a real treasure, since it would be for a Broadway show that never happened.

Albeit as additional research unfolded it was learned that the Broadway archives of the era frequently excluded off-Broadway productions. Hence, the name Niblo’s Garden Theater on Broadway near Prince Street rises to the surface and behold so does Vance’s musical. Could it be that The Girl and the Moon was staged at Niblo’s because Vance was the theater’s manager? Girl and the Moon did appear on Broadway, but it was just a bit off-Broadway, in the South of Houston (SoHo) district of Manhattan.

Niblo’s Garden Theater first established in 1828 is thought to be the site of America’s first musical comedy: The Black Crook. A synopsis of the story is the age-old tale of an aristocrat’s attempt to “buy a bride” by having the young girl’s fiancé fall victim to a master of black magic. Today’s audience would not be laughing.

Likely the stage where The Girl and the Moon was premiered and ran for more than 400 performances.

The card promises the show will make you laugh, and that there are 50 people, mostly girls, in the show.

Elmer Vance married Beatrice Conway, a woman fifteen years his junior, in 1894, at Camden, New Jersey. Beatrice’s parents were Canadians who came to the United States for her father’s career as a horticulturist.  

When Beatrice appeared in her husband’s first musical production, The Washington Post described her as a “remarkably beautiful soprano.”

By the 1920s Elmer, age 50 and Beatrice, 35, were living in an apartment house on W. 50th Street, New York. They listed their occupation as actor and actress. The address was not exactly in a swanky neighborhood; other lodgers were a dressmaker, a salesman in an auto supply store, and an elevator operator.

Today, the site of their boarding house is a parking lot across the street from the New World Stages theater. It too is an off-Broadway performing arts complex in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Little more is known about Beatrice and Elmer after that time.

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Was Beatrice really only nine years old when she married Elmer? Even for the times, that appears to be way too young.

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