This month the Capitol Theatre re-opened. Renowned architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin designed the Chicago Gothic-style theatre to evoke a crystalline cave, with a spectacular geometric plaster ceiling concealing thousands of coloured lamps within a complex three-dimensional design. It is considered some of their greatest interior design work. In 1924, it was the first extravagant ‘picture palace’ built in Victoria, seating 2000+ for movies and live performances.
Jack was lucky enough to perform on that stage. It came about in an unexpected way.
One of his greatest theatrical successes was Honi Soit, the first spectacular semi-nude revue in Melbourne, playing at the Princess Theatre. The book was credited to Ernest C. Rolls, John L. Gray and Jack O’Hagan, with additional lyrics and music by Rolls and O’Hagan. In reality, additional music and lyrics were written entirely by Jack but, as producer and copyright holder, the colourful Rolls always took credit.
Rolls followed the French music hall tradition of parading gorgeous girls in opulent scenes wearing elaborate headdresses and little else and, naturally, they were very successful. Comic Don Nicol, who starred in the revue, also created the program cover artwork – a nude female artist’s model and neatly moustachioed artist – all terribly French. Jack was the lead actor in the opening scene and starred throughout the show.
The troupe promoted the 1932 revue by staging a short one-hour version at the Capitol Theatre, prior to the showing of a Mae West film, in a stage presentation called Jazz Lands. The Jazz Piano Trio – Martin Kett, Barney Coughlan and Jack O’Hagan – and about 30 other performers – packed them in, beneath the magnificent ceiling that attracted architects from all over the world. Have a look at RMIT’s meticulous renovation and imagine what it must’ve been like to perform on that stage. https://www.youtube.com/embed/MOKn0-uOdBo?rel=0&autoplay=1
Jack always said he was the ‘first’ in Australia to perform live on stage with a hand-held microphone, a claim radio, television, film and theatre star Bert Newton found totally believable. Jack was at the leading edge of entertainment media throughout his life and always embraced new technology. He was the person most likely. Apparently, there were only four microphone manufacturers in the US and, up to that point, microphones had been either semi-permanent or very heavy to hold up. It’s quite possible Jack was using one of the first lightweight, high-performance products developed for the market.
Jack’s great friend Gladys Moncrieff was on the bill singing ‘L’Amour Toujours’. She asked Jack why he was pacing and he replied,
‘I’m waiting for the other half of my voice to come from Sydney’.
The mike hadn’t arrived. Gladys told others ‘Jack won’t be doing much’ but a little later heard him singing ‘Say It Isn’t So’ using the new microphone. ‘My God!’ she exclaimed, and immediately changed her repertoire to include numbers she hadn’t intended to use.
Credit: Jack and Gladys Moncrieff, 1930s.
You can book for scheduled shows at the fabulous Capitol Theatre now but it’s still undergoing renovation so save your visit until August 2019, when it opens to the public. https://www.rmit.edu.au/the-capitol