In This Episode


COMPOSER: Thomas Baker, George Bickwell, Giuseppe Operti

LYRICIST: Theodore Kennick

BOOK: Charles M Barras

STAGED BY:: David Costa

PRINCIPLE CAST: J.W. Blaisdell (Count), George Boniface (Rodolophe), Rose Morton (Amina)

OPENING DATE: September 12th, 1866




The duplicitous Count Wolfenstein has his eyes on the beautiful Amina but she is betrothed to Rodolphe. In order to have Amina all for himself, The Count has Hertzog, a black magic sorcerer who has achieved eternal life by bringing a fresh soul to the Devil every year, take Rodolphe as the annual sacrifice. When Stalacta, The Fairy Queen of the Golden Realm, meets Rodolphe she is determined to bring the young lovers back together and to defeat Wolfenstein and Hertzog.

Though neither the first American fusion of storytelling and music nor a particular artistic triumph, Professor Sebastian Trainor examines The Black Crook’s position as the first commercially successful piece of musical theatre to take New York by storm. A serendipitous fusion between an unproduced Faustian melodrama and a mechanical spectacle purchased in Europe lead to a crowd-pleasing sensation. Marketing which emphasized the cost of the imported spectacle and denouncements of the scantily clad dancers created a frenzied box office rush which made the show profitable in groundbreaking ways. The chapter examines the ways The Black Crook established a standard for spectacle on Broadway, absorbed the sex appeal which would become common in later productions, and set a business model for profitable musical theatre in America.

Sebastian Trainor is an Assistant Professor of Theatre History at the Pennsylvania State University. As a scholar he investigates charismatic-but-suspicious theatre-historical anecdotes, with an eye toward re-narrating them in more truthful contexts. His essays have appeared in Text & PresentationTheatre Symposium, The Journal of American Drama and Theatre, and various edited collections. 


Allen, Robert C. Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Barrass, Charles. The Black Crook. In Nineteenth Century Amaerican Plays. Edited by Myron Matlaw. New York: Applause, 1967. 324-374.

Freedley, George. “The Black Crook and The White Fawn.” Dance Index: A New Magazine Devoted to Dancing4.1(1945): 4-16. 

Lewis, Robert M. (editor). From Traveling Show to Vaudeville: Theatrical Spectacle in America, 1830-1910. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. 

Mates, Julian. “The Black Crook Myth.” Theatre Survey 17(1966): 31-43.

Odell, George. Annals of the New York Stage. Vol. 8. New York: Columbia University Press, 1936. 152-156.

Rogers, Bradley. “Redressing the Black Crook: The Dancing Tableau of Melodrama.” Modern Drama 55.4(2012): 476-496.

Smith, Cecil. Musical Comedy in America. New York: Applause, 1950.

Toll, Robert C. On with the Show: The First Century of Show Business in America. Oxford University Press. 1976.

Twain, Mark. Mark Twain’s Travels with Mr. Brown. Edited by Franklin Walker and G. Ezra Dane. Alfred A. Knopf. 1940.

Whitton, Joseph. The Naked Truth! The Inside Story of the Black Crook. 1897.

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