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Lina Edwin


On Thanksgiving Day in 1872, Lina Edwin's Theatre at 720 Broadway burnt to the ground; property damages amounted to $70,000. Edwin, one of the queens of opera bouffe in the United States had long before the fire surrendered the premises to the King and Leon Minstrels, but the power of her name was such that no one before or after the fire referred to the ruined house as Minstrel Hall.

Edwin had begun her experiment as an actress-manager of her own theater in 1870, when she staged two short comedies: a stinker entitled "A Bird in the Hand are Worth Two in the Bush" in which she did not appear, and "The Burlesque of Black Eyed Susan," in which she and Stuart Robson triumphed. Edwin wished to make her company the American specialists in Offenbach's musical farces, and was fortunate to secure the services of Mlle. Aimee, who made "The Grand Duchess" and "Fleur-de-The" the talk of the city. The pieces were performed in French, and among the literate women of the city it became something of a challenge to be able to follow the double entendres in the lyrices.

In 1872 Edwin and her Company left for a European tour, surrendering her theater to Leon and King. When Edwin returned from Paris in 1873 she carried the manuscript of a burlesque, "Little Jack Shepard," that she had composed. In the mid-1870s she appeared with Harrigan & Hart at the Theatre Comique. Her greatest role was "Frou Frou."

In the eyes of posterity Edwin has attracted notice as one of the more adventurous women theater managers of the post Civil War era. Relatively unexamined has been her work as a song-writer and composer of musicals. David S. Shields/ALS