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Source: Fryer Library, The University of Queensland
y separately published work icon What Oh Tonight single work   musical theatre   revue/revusical   humour  
Issue Details: First known date: 1916... 1916 What Oh Tonight
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description


The story is set in a beauty parlour in the inner-city area of Sydney. Stiffy and Mo become the new owners of the parlour and attempt to pass themselves off as medical men.

The principle characters are Stiffy (a rabbit seller), Mo (aka Sol, Stiffy's mate: see note below), Harry Summer (a doctor and owner of the beauty parlour), Helen Summer (his wife), Uncle (Helen's rich uncle), Mary O'Shea (beauty parlour employee), Mrs De'Vere (Helen's housekeeper and 1st Assistant Beautifier), Italian Woman (a patient in version 1), Bill Bender (a patient in version 2).

The songs known to have been incorporated into the revusical, as it was originally conceived, were 'The Opening Chorus', 'Lady's Band', 'Antonio', 'Skylark Love', 'Men, Men, Men', and 'Here's to Love' (also reprised as the finale).

It is possible that What Oh Tonight later became Manicure, Sir? (aka The Beauty Parlour). In addition to Stiffy and Mo, both these revusicals include characters called Helen, Uncle, Mrs De'Vere, and Mary. No production called What Oh Tonight has been identifed after 1916, further suggesting that Phillips changed the title (and possibly some of the storyline).


  • Although Nat Phillips had been presenting his Stiffy character on stage for some years prior to the staging of What Oh Tonight, this particular one-act musical comedy marked the first occasion on which he and Roy Rene teamed up as a comic duo.

    It is interesting to note, however, that while the on-stage partnership came to be known as Stiffy and Mo, the part of Mo Lazarus was originally written into the revusical as Sol McPherson, an Irish/Hebrew character (see Nat Phillips Collection manuscript). According to popular legend, Mo was decided upon by Roy Rene shortly before the company made its debut at the Princess Theatre in July 1916. The name is said to have been suggested by Bill Sadler, the theatre's well-known stage manager.

    The Sydney theatre critics, writing of this opening production for the Nat Phillips Tabloid Musical Comedy Revue Company season at the Princess Theatre, were overwhelmingly positive. Australian Variety notes that Phillips, in particular, had 'identified himself with an original type in Stiffy, the hero of the revues at the Princess. The character is typically Australian and Nat has it true to life' (23 August 1916, n. pag).

  • An edited version of the original manauscript appears in '"What Oh Tonight": The Methodology Factor and Pre-1930s Australian Variety Theatre - Appendices', Clay Djubal, PhD Thesis, 2005, pp.34-48.

  • Two versions of the 'Patient' scene are provided in the Nat Phillips Collection manuscript (Fryer Library).

Production Details

  • 1916: Princess Theatre, Sydney, 8-14 July (return season: 19-25 August).

    • Director Nat Phillips; Producer/Lessee Harry Sadler and Jack Kearns.
    • Proprietor Fullers' Theatres Ltd.
    • Cast incl. Nat Phillips (Stiffy), Roy Rene (Mo), Daisy Merritt, Peter Brooks, Horace Mann, Caddy Franks, Walter Jackson [aka Walter Whyte], Maisie Pollard, Harry Sadler (return season only).
    • This was the debut production for Stiffy and Mo.

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

First known date: 1916
      1916 .
      Link: U3632Full text resource Digital copy of original manuscript. Link: U3633Full text resource Digital copy of edited version by Dr Clay Djubal.
      Extent: 7p.p.
      Description: Typed with handwritten notes.
      (Manuscript) assertion


      Held at: University of Queensland University of Queensland Library Fryer Library
      Local Id: UQFL9
  • Appears in:
    y separately published work icon Australian Variety Theatre Archive : Popular Culture Entertainment: 1850-1930 Clay Djubal , Z1787295 2011 website

    The Australian Variety Theatre Archive (AVTA) is an independent, not-for-profit research website devoted to the period of theatrical activity in Australia that might be considered the 'golden years' of minstrelsy and vaudeville. The motivation for the site has been the need to rectify the exceedingly poor amount of research directed towards this area of Australian history and thus address the many myths, inaccuracies and gaps that are to be found in the present historical record.

    The AVTA's primary objectives are two-fold: To celebrate and advance our knowledge of the Australian variety theatre industry which operated between the mid-1800s and the late-1920s/early-1930s; and to provide an on-going information archive which will serve as the basis for further research by both academics and historians, as well as by the general public.

    Variety entertainment during the period covered by the AVTA crossed many theatrical genres and media forms (including film and radio). The archive is primarily interested, however, in the following genres: burlesque minstrelsy (including minstrels farces) vaudeville revue revusical (one act musical comedies) pantomime. The archive is also looking to provide biographical details on the people involved in variety the performers (individuals and acts), entrepreneurs and managers, troupes, scenic artists, stage managers, front-of-house managers, costume and property-makers, choreographers, writers, composers, songwriters, lyricists directors, music directors, producers and associated industry practitioners (journalists/critics, advance representatives etc).

    The AVTA also publishes Mixed Bag, a monograph series devoted to variety theatre and popular culture entertainment.

    Source: (Sighted 23/06/2011)

    Section: Texts: Unpublished

PeriodicalNewspaper Details

This entry has been sourced from research undertaken by Dr Clay Djubal into Australian-written popular music theatre (ca. 1850-1930). See also the Australian Variety Theatre Archive
Last amended 23 May 2014 11:40:14
  • Inner Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales,
  • Redfern, Inner Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales,
  • Surry Hills, Inner Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales,
  • ca. 1916-1925
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