On December 28, 1907, an overflow crowd of nearly 3,000 jams into Seattle's new Moore Theatre at 2nd Avenue and Virginia Street for opening night. The fashionable group includes such honored guests as Washington State Governor Albert Mead (1861-1913), Seattle Mayor William Hickman Moore (1861-1946), their wives, and much of Seattle's social elite. The venue, named after its developer, James A. Moore (1861-1929), opens with weeklong production of The Alaskan, a Klondike-themed operetta with more than a few Seattle connections.
A Mad Dash to the Finish
Although ground had been broken for the house almost five months previous, preparations for opening night were a somewhat frenzied affair, continuing up to the last possible moment. Just a week before the Moore was to make its public debut, much of the house -- including the furnishings, carpets, tapestries, and seats -- had yet to be installed. Men worked frantically to ready the venue; on opening night those theatergoers arriving early caught a few of the workers in the midst of their last-second efforts. "Those who arrived before the necessity of a hurried occupancy of seats, found the finishing touches being placed upon the work of cleaning up," went one account ("New Theater is Very Beautiful").
Opening night tickets were hard to come by -- the boxes, lower floor, and balcony sold out well in advance of the first performance. "The gallery is certain to be packed," remarked the Seattle Star of the scramble for tickets, "many of those who were unable to secure seats on the lower floors deciding that they would rather see The Alaskan ... from the topmost row than to miss being present [on opening night] entirely" ("Moore Theater Opens Tonight"). Even so, theater management found extra room for the occasion, allowing a throng of "standing-room-onlies" to pack the auditorium like sardines, which boosted the house's capacity from 2,400 to nearly 3,000 for the evening.
The opening was easily the social event of the season, with reporters noting that it had "seldom, if ever been duplicated in Seattle," even surpassing a spectacular concert by Madame Calve at the Grand Opera House only a few weeks previous ("Society Attends in Brilliant Array"). (Nor did the society folk end their evening after the curtain had rung down on the play -- several prominent "supper parties" were held immediately after the show let out. Local theatrical manager John Cort [1861-1929], who abandoned the Grand Opera House to make the Moore his flagship Seattle theater, held a lavish celebration at the Savoy Hotel, dining with Governor Mead and Mayor Moore, among selected guests.)
Speeches On and Off the Cuff
Once the Moore's first audience had been seated, Mayor William Hickman Moore rose to address the crowd, offering some thoughts on the growth of Seattle since his arrival some 20 years previous. He then introduced Governor and Mrs. Albert Mead, with Governor Mead rising to make his own extended remarks before the curtain. Mead traced the growth of the dramatic arts as well as the growth of Seattle, and talked extensively on the use of history in drama, in light of its use in The Alaskan. He also had kind words for those involved in putting the new Moore together. "An honest feeling of pride in every one [sic] connected with the enterprise is justified to the results that have been accomplished" ("Theater Opening Brilliant Affair").
Following Governor Mead, developer James A. Moore, whose vision led to the erection of the Moore in the first place, was beckoned to the stage from his private box. Moore's comments were brief and, quite literally, off-the-cuff. "In anticipation [of my being called before the audience] I wrote out a very good speech," he announced to the crowd. "I wrote it out on my cuff and I laid out that cuff tonight to wear. [However,] Mrs. Moore is a careful sort of woman and she discovered what she believed was a soiled cuff and took it away. So I come before you speechless" ("Moore Theater is Opened to Public").
With formalities out of the way, the house orchestra took over, launching into the "Star Spangled Banner," which brought the crowd to its feet. After a few additional selections, the curtain rose on The Alaskan.
The Play's the Thing
The Alaskan, an operetta of prospecting during the Klondike Gold Rush, held more than its fair share of interest to Seattleites. In addition to the storyline so pivotal to the city's early history, there were other local connections to the play.
Joseph Blethen, son of Seattle Times publisher Colonel Alden J. Blethen (1845-1915), wrote the book upon which The Alaskan was based, and served as the librettist for the comic opera. "Joe Blethen had literary talent, and so they don't need him much at the Times," remarked one rival journalist ("The Stroller"). Veteran stage actor Max Figman, whose career at the time was under the direction of John Cort, helped Blethen and composer Harry Girard put together the actual stage adaptation of The Alaskan. Figman also directed the production for the Moore's debut performance.
In addition to composing duties, Girard starred in the production as its leading man, Dick Atwater, and pleased virtually everyone with his skillful singing voice. The remainder of the cast was made up of actors very familiar to regular theatergoers in Seattle, including Teddy Webb, cast as Smallberry Strander, "a Broadway favorite" lost in the frozen north.
Interestingly, the troupe playing The Alaskan had already been through the Northwest, having played Tacoma a full month prior to their weeklong engagement at the Moore. Many audience members in attendance on opening night, in fact, had traveled to Tacoma specifically to catch that production, which had omitted a Seattle date from its tour schedule. It would appear that John Cort, the Moore's manager, arranged the Seattle dates to coincide with the opening of the new theater, although at least one announcement made the rather strained argument that the play was too large to have been staged in any of the city's other venues.
The Star found that the opening of the new theater, coupled with the appearance of The Alaskan, made for a fitting pair of attractions -- "a Seattle-made comic opera, dealing with Alaskan lands to which Seattle is a gateway; written in Seattle, and staged by a Seattle manager, and in which Seattle singers are appearing" ("Moore Theater to Open Tomorrow Night"). Even those who had previously seen The Alaskan in Tacoma were not disappointed, according to reports, since "[l]ike all good music, [Harry] Girard's is better on a second study" ("Moore Theater Opens with The Alaskan").
No review of the play appeared in the Daily Times -- "[f]or obvious reasons The Times cannot offer a criticism of The Alaskan," their writer commented. "This must be left to our contemporaries ... ." Even so, the paper was willing to call the production "in a class by itself and distinctly the most notable production of this generation" ("Moore Theater is Opened to Public"). They also found that the local angle of the play proved a great hit with audiences. "Not an Alaskan joke missed its point with [the] audience, which knew all about the country and its language even if it had not been there. To the players, it was like speaking in one's mother tongue, and being sure of being understood" ("Alaskan Warmly Welcomed").
Although The Alaskan was eventually re-written and apparently enjoyed a brief run on Broadway, it never lived up to the praise heaped upon it during its Seattle debut. Unlike the Moore Theatre itself, it failed to stand the test of time.