Edward Harrigan

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Edward Harrigan (October 26, 1844 – June 6, 1911) was an American actor and vaudevillian, dramatist, playwright, theatre manager, and composer. Harrigan and Tony Hart as Harrigan and Hart formed the first famous collaboration in American musical theatre. The combination of music, dance, and human interest, fully realized in the form of a full-length musical comedy by Harrigan and Hart, proved to be enduring and continues to entice and endear audiences to musical performances today.

Life and career[edit]

Harrigan was born in New York and of Irish lineage. He made his first acting appearance as an Irish Comic Singer when he was 22 in a saloon in San Francisco in 1867. After performing for a few years, he headed back to Chicago where he formed a stage partnership with Tony Hart (1855–1891), whose real name was Anthony J. Cannon. Although Harrigan was the mastermind behind the characters and plots of the presentations, Hart’s charm and allurement played a large role in the success of the partnership. The two began their professional career in New York in 1872-73 and soon joined Josh Hart’s Theatre Comique. They found success in presenting musical blackface minstrel bits and Irish and German character sketches and comic routines for four years at the Comique. "Harrigan and Hart" had a great success on tour in the presentation of comic types of lower class characters drawn from everyday life on the streets of New York, especially the ethnic neighborhood "militias". Beginning as simple vaudeville sketches, Harrigan gradually worked these up into plays, with occasional songs, set to popular music by David Braham. In 1872, Harrigan crafted an act called The Mulligan Guard (performed in 1873) that in many ways proved to be the heart of the duo’s image in years to come.

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By 1878, with The Mulligan Guard Picnic, Harrigan & Hart settled down on Broadway and performed in seventeen of their shows over the next seven years.[1] Though still broad and farcical, these shows featured music that was integrated with a more literary story line, together with the dialogue and dance, and the shows began to resemble modern musical comedy. Harrigan wrote the stories and lyrics, and Braham wrote the music.

Although the plays gradually became longer as more songs, dances, and stage business was added, the tickets remained the same price. Harrigan’s theatre was about the everyday people, and so it was fitting that the everyday working folk were the ones who filled up the seats. These shows were very popular, especially with New York's immigrant-based lower and middle classes, who were delighted to see themselves comically (but sympathetically) depicted on stage. The action of the plays took place in downtown Manhattan and concerned real-life problems, such as interracial tensions, political corruption, and gang violence, all mixed with broad, street-smart comedy, puns and ethnic dialects. Harrigan played the politically ambitious Irish saloon owner "Dan Mulligan", and Hart played the African-American washerwoman "Rebecca Allup".

One of Harrigan’s most popular plays with the Mulligan Guard Series, the Mulligan Guard’s Ball (1880), shows off the smooth juxtaposition of the comedy, musicality, and a healthy dose of humanity that made Harrigan’s plays so distinctive. Full of laughable chaos and “Harrigan hilarity”, the Irish militia and Black militia within the act butt heads in a satirical whirlwind of dance, stage violence, and buffoonery.[2] The New York Herald compared the Mulligan series to the ‘Pickwick Papers’ by Charles Dickens [3] and one devotee wrote: “America has produced nothing more national, more distinctly its own, than these plays of the Irish in New York”.[4] People spoke of Ned Harrigan as the American Molière.[5]

Although the original home of the Mulligans, the Comique at 514 Broadway, eventually had to be shut down for financial reasons, Harrigan announced in 1881 that they would build a fresh and elegant Comique" at 728 Broadway . The building they renovated was originally the home of the Church of the Messiah but had hosted many other theatres throughout the years. Although it had held a variety of different names, no title was so illustrious as that of “Harrigan and Hart’s Theatre Comique”.[6] However, this theatre was not to last; it was burned to the ground in 1884.

After the theatre collapsed, so did the partnership. Harrigan had married Annie Braham, David's daughter, on November 18, 1876. Their family continued in his footsteps, as son William Harrigan, daughter Nedda Harrigan, and granddaughter Ann Connolly all became Broadway performers. However, Harrigan's habit of hiring relatives soured his partnership with Hart. In May 1885, five months after the fire, Harrigan and Hart appeared on Broadway together for the last time. Hart lived the rest of his life quietly until his death in 1891, while Harrigan opened up his “Harrigan’s Theatre” in 1890 on Herald’s Square. Twenty-three of his plays achieved runs of more than one hundred performances each on Broadway. Harrigan continued writing plays and performing until his last public appearance on March 16, 1910. He died in 1911.[7]

Harrigan 'n Hart, a Broadway show featuring songs written by Harrigan and Braham, played at the Longacre Theatre in 1985. It featured Tony award-winning Harry Groener as Harrigan and Mark Hamill as Tony Hart. It was nominated for 1985 Tony Award, Best Book of a Musical, Michael Stewart.

Works[edit]

  • 1877: Old Lavender
  • 1878: The Mulligan Guard Picnic
  • 1879: The Mulligan Guards' Ball
  • 1880: The Mulligan Guards' Surprise which included the hit song "Whist! The Bogie Man" words by Harrigan and music by David Braham.
  • 1881: The Major
  • 1883: The Mulligans' Silver Wedding
  • 1883: Cordelia's Aspirations
  • 1886: The Leather Patch
  • 1890: Reilly and the Four Hundred

References[edit]

  1. ^ Who's Who in Musicals: Hale-Harris at www.musicals101.com
  2. ^ Moody, Richard. Ned Harrigan: From Corlear’s Hook to Herald Square. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Inc., Publishers, 1980. Print.
  3. ^ Moody, Richard. Ned Harrigan: From Corlear’s Hook to Herald Square. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Inc., Publishers, 1980. Print.
  4. ^ Moody, Richard. Ned Harrigan: From Corlear’s Hook to Herald Square. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Inc., Publishers, 1980. Print.
  5. ^ Cullen, Frank. Vaudeville, Old and New An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2007. Print.
  6. ^ Kahn Jr., E. J. The Merry Partners: The Act and Stage of Harrigan and Hart. New York: Random House, Inc., 1955. Print.
  7. ^ Moody, Richard. Ned Harrigan: From Corlear’s Hook to Herald Square. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Inc., Publishers, 1980. Print.

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Cullen, Frank. Vaudeville, Old and New An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2007. Print.
  • Dormon, James H. “Ethnic Cultures of the Mind: The Harrigan-Hart Mosaic.” American Studies Fall 1992: 21-40. JSTOR. Web. 8 March. 2013.
  • Finson, Jon W., ed. (1997). Collected Songs, 1873–1896. Music of the United States of America (MUSA) vol. 7. Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions.
  • Kahn, E.J. (1955) The Merry Partners: The Age and Stage of Harrigan and Hart (Random House). Biography of Harrigan and Hart.
  • Moody, Richard. (1980) Ned Harrigan - From Corlear's Hook to Herald Square. (Chicago: Nelson Hall)