Asheville Archives: Performers from a musical comedy flop tour the city’s specialty shops, 1917

LIVE PROMO: A troupe of visiting performers toured Asheville's specialty shops as part of a promotional campaign in December 1917. Despite the group's tireless efforts, the production itself proved to be poorly attended by local residents. Screenshot from the Dec. 3, 1917, edition of The Asheville Times

“All aboard for the Beauty Shop Special!” declared the Dec. 3, 1917, edition of The Asheville Times. “In three Maxwell automobiles 20 of the prettiest girls you ever saw, principals and members of the chorus of the ‘Beauty Shop,’ are going on a tour of Asheville Tuesday.”

Tickets for the musical comedy had gone on sale two days prior. “The show is declared to be something unusual,” The Asheville Citizen reported in its Dec. 1, 1917, publication, “with a number of song hits and feature dances that are out of the ordinary.”

According to The Asheville Times’ Dec. 3 article, the show’s cast was scheduled to take in “everything that’s worth seeing in the Mountain City.” This amounted to a series of promotional stops, including calls to the Whitemire Motor Sales Co. on Broadway, Dunham’s Music House on Pack Square, The New Globe (shoe store) on Biltmore Avenue and the Paramount Drug Store on Patton Avenue.

Some of the visits offered the troupe members a chance to show off their talents. For example, at Dunham’s Music House, the production’s leading man, Frank W. Shea, performed a piano recital on one of the shop’s instruments. Meanwhile, at the drugstore, a dancing exhibition was led.

But other appearances, such as the troupe’s hour at The New Globe, seemed quite underwhelming. “The beauties will demonstrate the newest ladies’ footwear,” the paper stated.

The group’s tour was set to conclude at the offices of The Asheville Times, where “for half an hour [the troupe] will live the life of the ‘newsies,’ as they sell the last edition of the Times on the streets.”

Despite the chorus’s jampacked promotional tour, the production itself appears to have been an overhyped, underattended flop.

“A comparatively small audience witnessed the presentation of ‘The Beauty Shop’ at the Auditorium last night, but those who failed to see it did not miss anything extraordinary,” The Asheville Citizen declared in its Dec. 5, 1917, edition.

“As it was presented here, ‘The Beauty Shop’ was a musical comedy with none too much music and not a world of comedy,” the article continued. “While the production has several good features, notably dancing specialties, it is lacking in good soloists. Of the chorus it may be said that its members made up in looks what they lacked in musical ability.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents. 


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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