George Musgrove 1854-1916
At age the age of 26 he went to London, bought the rights to Offenbach’s operetta La Fille du Tambour Major.
In 1885 Musgrove managed a concert tour by the Australian violinist Johann Kruse. Kruse is now forgotten, but his associate artist, billed as Mrs Armstrong, went on to international fame as Nellie Melba.
George was front-of-house manager for Emily Soldene during her 1877-8 tour of Australia. His first big entrepreneurial venture came in 1880. At age the age of 26 he went to London, bought the rights to Offenbach’s operetta La Fille du Tambour Major, and engaged a company to play it in Australia. It opened at the Melbourne Opera House in December 1880 and packed the theatre for 101 performances. For the subsequent tour 22-year-old Nellie Stewart took over the role of the Drummer Boy, and so started her long, legendary and loving relationship with George Musgrove.
Unlike J.C. Williamson and his contemporary producers, Musgrove was not an ‘actor-manager’. He never appeared on stage and was, in effect, our first ‘modern’ theatrical entrepreneur. In 1882 he went into partnership with Williamson and Arthur Gamer to form their famous ‘Triumvirate’. George supervised the productions, Williamson the acting and Garner the finances. Each contributed £3000 to the venture, which got off to a good start with the Australian premiere of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne on 1 July 1882; a week later they debuted a series of plays starring George Rignold at the Theatre Royal in Sydney.
After that came a steady stream of glossy, crowd-pleasing productions of drama and light opera, often featuring illustrious imported companies; nevertheless, Nellie Stewart was their most consistently popular star. In 1885 Musgrove managed a concert tour by the Australian violinist Johann Kruse. Kruse is now forgotten, but his associate artist, billed as Mrs Armstrong, went on to international fame as Nellie Melba.
In 1886 the Triumvirate rebuilt Melbourne’s Princess Theatre to designs by William Pitt, though Nellie Stewart claimed that the grand conception was Musgrove’s and that he was responsible for many of the building’s features. She was Yum-Yum the revival of The Mikado, the new theatre’s opening attraction.
One of the Triumvirate’s most enterprising endeavours was the 1889 tour by Janet Achurch in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which opened at the Princess in Melbourne a mere three months after she had premiered it in London. It was one of the partners’ last ventures. After nine fruitful years – in one of which they had shared a profit of £45,000 – George Musgrove struck out on his own. He continued to capitalise on Nellie Stewart’s popularity, presenting her in Paul Jones, Boccaccio and La Fille de Madame Angot. Musgrove and Nellie Stewart ventured to London; there she made her West End debut and Musgrove signed up the Gaiety Theatre Company for its second colonial tour which was a major failure.
Watch this space
Ian Bevan: The Story of the Theatre Royal, Currency Press, 1993
Jean Gittins: ‘George Musgrove’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 5, Melbourne University Press
Claude McKay: This is the Life, Angus & Robertson, 1961
Nellie Stewart: My Life’s Story , 1923
John West: ‘George Musgrove’, in Companion to Theatre in AustraliaCurrency Press, 1995