Kelly and Leon’s Minstrels

Event Information

Kelly and Leon's Minstrels Hall (720 Broadway)

Event Type:

Record Information


Last Updated:
28 March 2021

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

04 Jan 1869, Evening
05 Jan 1869, Evening
06 Jan 1869, Evening
07 Jan 1869, Evening
08 Jan 1869, Evening
09 Jan 1869, Evening

Performers and/or Works Performed

Text Author: Leon
Participants:  Francis Leon (role: Drogan)


Advertisement: New York Herald, 04 January 1869.
Announcement: New York Clipper, 09 January 1869, 318, 2d col., middle.
Advertisement: New York Clipper, 09 January 1869, 319.
Article: New York Clipper, 16 January 1869, 326, 2d col., top.

“THE SIX HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIFTH and last performance in this city of Kelly and KLeon’s Minstrels, took place at their hall, 718 and 720 Broadway, on Saturday evening, Jan 9th, and as the career of this company has been somewhat remarkable we shall give a brief history of their doings since their advent here. The building known as Hope Chapel had for a long time been an unproductive piece of real estate for the owner, and the two halls occasionally leased for exhibitions had not proved a paying speculation for any use of the managers that gave it a trial. Panoramas of nearly every description, various other kinds of exhibitions gave it a trial, but all shared alike, closing abruptly, and with some loss. Finally, a minstrel band opened there called the Californians, but their career was a brief one, and the place was again closed. For a long time it was advertised for rent, but no one could be found who dared to make the venture, until Messrs. Kelly and Leon, two gentlemen who had been running a minstrel band through the west, decided to locate in New York, and took a lease of the entire building for two years. They met with anything but encouragement on all sides, and not a person was there but predicted a complete failure. But they knew their own business best, took possession May 1st, 1866, and gave the premises a complete rejuvenation, making a billiard saloon out of the lower hall, and a pretty minstrel out of the upper one. They opened October 1st, 1866, renting out the six dwelling over the hall and the store each side of the main entrance, besides the basement and billiard saloon, receiving rather far more money than they were actually paying for the entire property, leaving them with no rent to pay at all for their minstrel hall. Here was a bold stroke in the beginning. On their opening night Frank Moran was on the bone end, John Allen on the tambourine, and Edwin Kelly interlocutor, besides thirteen performers and a pianist in the first part. They were favorably received from the start and were rewarded with good houses, which continued to increase nightly until they closed the season, June 23d, 1867, and went to Boston and Philadelphia for a new season. Returning, they commenced their second season July 29th, 1867, with Nelse Seymour and Add Ryman on the ends. They opened well, and their business was splendid throughout the entire season, which closed June 24th, and then they visited Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Albany and a few other places. During their traveling Mr. Kelly remained in this city to superintend the alterations made in the hall, which were of the most extensive character. When the company returned to commence their third season, Aug. 31st, 1868, they found the handsomest and best fitted in this country; in fact, the managers went to an expense of nearly $20,000 and made it in every sense of the word, a theatre. They were safe in expending this much in improving the property, for they had their lease extended from two to ten years. Their third season opened more auspiciously than their two preceding ones, business being great. They charged a higher price of admission than was ever before demanded by a minstrel band—$1.50, $1 and 50 cents. They commenced making a feature of opera burlesque Feb. 3d, 1867, when the ‘Grand Dutch S’ was presented in a manner never before attempted by a minstrel band in the country, and equal in costumes and general appointments to any production at our theatres. The piece had a great run and made many thousands of dollars for the managers. This was followed in rapid succession by other burlesques, all of which were done in a superb manner. When they opened their last season they had in the first part thirty-five people, including sixteen musicians, sixteen in the chorus, two end men and a pianist, forming two circles across the stage. Their business continued good up to their closing night, but, having received a tempting offer from a popular London manager to visit England and produce their burlesque there, and then make a tour of the Continent, and having an opportunity to lease their hall, they concluded to terminate their New York engagement. This is the only reason they leave, and not for want of patronage, as has been stated by several of our contemporaries, for the receipts of this band, as well as those of the other two in the city as returned to the revenue collectors, will show. The company intend taking a traveling tour of about three months, commencing this evening (the 11th), at Harlem, N.Y., thence to Yonkers, 12th, Stamford, Conn., 13th, Bridgeport 14th, Hartford 15th, thence Springfield, Mass., Providence, R. I., Worcester, Albany, N.Y., and through the West to Chicago, where they intend remaining for a few weeks. Mr. Kelly leaves for England in about two weeks to prepare things ahead. Leon, and a few members of the present company will leave so as to appear there about Easter Monday. That Leon will meet with success across the water there cannot be a doubt, for his equal has never been seen there in his specialties. It is his intention to close the hall for about ten days or two weeks for the purpose of making some alterations under the stage in the way of dressing rooms, and when all is ready, will open with a vaudeville or burlesque company, under the acting management of Thomas E. Morris. It is probable that the Elsie Holt burlesque troupe, now in Boston, will open there before the close of the present month.”