Harrigan & Hart

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Popular New York theatre writing partnership of the late 19th century.
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Ned Harrigan (b. Edward Harrigan, 26 October 1844, New York City, New York, USA, d. 6 June 1911, New York City, New York, USA) and Tony Hart (b. Anthony Cannon, 25 July 1855, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA, d. 4 November 1891, New York City, New York, USA) were immensely popular in the late nineteenth century. Their partnership brought to New York’s theatre audiences hints of the real world that lay beneath the surface of the city. Of Irish descent, Harrigan wrote plays featuring the street people he observed in the city’s seedier neighbourhoods. His plays blended deft satire with broad farce and gained him attention and praise, some suggesting he was America’s equivalent to Charles Dickens. Hart was a skilled singer and dancer and also a gifted comic actor. A valued collaborator on much of their work was David Braham (b. 1838, London England, d. 11 April 1905, New York City, New York, USA), a musician and orchestra conductor. Among their shows are The Mulligan Guard Ball (1879), from which came ‘The Babies On Our Block’ (lyrics by Harrigan, music by Braham), and Squatter Sovereignty (1882), which included ‘Paddy Duffy’s Cart’ (Harrigan, Braham). Harrigan and Hart’s partnership ended in 1885, the break-up hastened by Hart’s increasing unreliability; he drank heavily and was sexually promiscuous. He contracted syphilis, a disease that affected his brain. During his last years he was increasingly confined to mental hospitals and was only in his mid-thirties when he died. In 1886 Harrigan married Braham’s daughter Annie.

Harrigan continued to write for the theatre and among other popular shows and songs, the latter all with words and music by Harrigan and Braham, were Mulligan’s Silver Wedding (‘John Rily’s Always Dry’), Reilly And The 400 (‘Maggie Murphy’s Home’), and The Mulligan Guard Nominee (‘Hang The Mulligan Banner Up’). As public taste changed, Harrigan wrote more for vaudeville than the musical theatre. Highly respected by his peers, he was immortalized in song by no less than George M. Cohan, who in 1907 wrote in his honour a ditty that became very popular, not only in the USA but also in the UK and especially in Ireland: ‘H-A-double R-I-G-A-N Spells Harrigan’. Two years after this, Harrigan, who had been devastated by the death of his young son, collapsed backstage at the Metropolitan Opera House during a show in his honour. Several songs by Harrigan and Braham, performed by Max Morath with Dick Hyman and others, are included on 1999’s Don’t Give The Name A Bad Place released by New World Records.

The lives of Harrigan and Hart were the subject of a musical show that was staged at the opening, in 1984, of the Norma Terris Theatre. The show, Harrigan ’N Hart, by Michael Stewart, with music by Max Showalter and lyrics by Peter Walker moved onto Broadway the following year, previewing at the Longacre Theatre for 25 performances from 10 January. It opened on 31 January but closed four days later. Despite the failure, the show picked up three Tony Award nominations: as Outstanding Actors In A Musical (for Harry Groener and Mark Hammill, as Harrigan and Hart), and for Best Book Of A Musical (for Stewart).