A playbill is a poster or piece of paper that advertises a performance. In the case of theatrical performances, the same term is often used interchangably with the word program or programme. They are printed leaflets outlining the parts of the event scheduled to take place, principal performers, and background information. Still used today, programs are also often distributed to attendees at concerts, sports events, and other live performances; not just plays. Twenty pages of Mr. Boller’s scrapbook display portions of playbill from concerts and plays he attended. Some of the performances showcased are quite significant. They include early performances of such well known plays as Ben-Hur and The Wizard of Oz.
Ben-Hur is a theatrical adaptation of the novel by Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A tale of the Christ which was published by Harper & Brothers on November 12, 1880.
The book tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a fictional, Jewish, nobelman who is falsely accused by a childhood friend, Messala, of an assassination attempt on a Roman officer. Although Judah receives no trial, he is forced into slavery. All of his family property is seized and both his mother and sister are sent to a Roman prison where they contract leprosy. While being marched off to board a Roman slave ship, Judah encounters Jesus who offers him a drink of water. Judah is evebntually released from enslavement and goes on to become a trained soldier and charioteer. Not knowing the fate of his family, Judah returns home to seek vengence by driving a team of horses in a race against Messala. This need for revenge turns into a story of compassion and forgiveness as Judah witnesses Jesus being lead to his Cruxifixion. Judah recognises Jesus as the young man who saved his life with a simple drink of water in the desert. Judah, in turn, offers a drink of water to jesus. Witnessing the sacrifice of Christ removes the hatred from Judah’s heart and saves his soul. Judah returns to his home, finding his family healed and their proseperity restored.
The novel gained such popularity that it was adapted for the stage and opened at the Broadway Theater in New York City on November 29, 1899. Two years later it traveled to Chicago where Mr. Boller saw it at the Illinois Theatre in the Fall of 1901.
Critics gave the mixed reviews, but the novel’s popularity drew a new audience to the theaters, “many of them devout churchgoers who’d previously been suspicious of the stage." The key spectacle of the play was the chariot race which used live horses running on treadmills with a rotating backdrop.
Links to learn more about the production of Ben-Hur that Mr. Boller saw at the Illinois Theatre in 1901:About the Illinois Theatre: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/3692
Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz is a musical based on the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a novel by L. Frank Baum, originally published in 1900.
The story is one most people are probably familiar with today as it is still a very popular stage production and film. The details of the print story varies slightly from the live productions. It is still a story of a young girl from Kansas named Dorothy Gale and her faithful dog, Toto. The two are swept up by a tornado in their modest farmhouse and whisked away to the magical Land of Oz where they crash down on and kill the Wicked Witch of the East; evil ruler of the Munchkins. Her sister, the Good Witch of the North (not Glinda the Good Witch of the South), sets Dorothy on the yellow brick road, the path to the Emerald City, with instructions to see the Wizard of Oz who can help her get back home to Kansas. In the book Dorothy’s magical slippers are silver, not the ruby color made famous by the movie.
Along the way to the Emerald City, Dorothy acquires three companions the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. The adventures they face in the book are slightly different than those seen on stage or in film but, nonetheless, the foursome eventually reach the Emerald City and meet the Wizard who agrees to help each of them if they kill the Wicked Witch of the West; ruler of Oz's Winkie Country.
Victorious in their quest to off the Wicked Witch, they travel back to the Wizard of Oz where they discover that the Wizard is just an ordinary man who found his way to Oz in a hot air balloon. He does provide them each with the object of their desire, though; the Scarecrow is given a head full of bran and needles, the Tin Woodman receives a silk heart stuffed with sawdust, and the Cowardly Lion gets a potion of courage. For Dorothy, the Wizard decides to take her and Toto home to Kansas. Before she could board the hot air balloon though, Toto takes off chasing a cat. Dorothy goes after him. The tethers of the balloon break free and the Wizard floats away without them.
Through another series of adventures, Dorothy and her companions travel to the palace of Glinda the Good Witch of the South where they learn that Dorothy’s silver shoes have always had the power to take her anywhere she wished to go. Clicking her heels together three times, Dorothy wishes to return home. Instantly, she is whirled through the air and onto the grass of the Kansas prairie farm.
In the production Mr. Boller saw, though, there is no Toto. Rather, Dorothy is accompanied by her faithful pet calf, Imogene. There is also a slew of “new” characters on the stage; a Kansas streetcar conductor named Pastoria; his waitress-girlfriend, Tryxie Tryfle; an Ophelia-like lady lunatic named Cynthia Cynch; and more. And Dorothy doesn’t receive magical shoes of silver or ruby or of any other color. She doesn’t receive any shoes at all but instead is given a magical ruby ring.
To read more about the stage production Mr. Boller watched in the summer of 1902 at the Grand Opera House in Chicago, check out the following links:
The Wizard of Oz (1903) synopsis of the play: http://static.nypl.org/MOTM/Oz/synopsis.html
About the Grand Opera House in Chicago: https://chicagology.com/rebuilding/rebuilding019/
A review in the Chicago Tribune from June 24, 1902: http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1902/06/24/page/13/article/music-and-drama
 Allen, M.D, 2007, "Ben-Hur." Masterplots II: Christian Literature 1-2. MagillOnLiterature Plus, EBSCOhost, accessed March 5, 2016.
 Swansburg, John, “The Passion of Lew Wallace,” Slate, March 26, 2013, accessed March 5, 2016.http://www.slate.com/articles/life/history/2013/03/ben_hur_and_lew_wallace_how_the_scapegoat_of_shiloh_became_one_of_the_best.single.html
 Maxine, David, “Musical of the Month: A Production History of the 1903 Oz," New York Public Library Blog, accessed March 7, 2016, http://www.nypl.org/blog/2011/12/15/musical-month-production-history-1903-oz.