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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lazar, John (1801–1879)

by G. L. Fischer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

John Lazar (1801-1879), actor and mayor, was born on 1 December 1801 in Edinburgh, the son of Abraham Lazar, stockbroker, and his wife Rachel, née Lazarus. When he arrived in Sydney on 26 February 1837, under the name of Lazarus, he claimed to be a tailor and also to have appeared on well-known London theatre stages. In May he began his Australian career as Shylock at the Theatre Royal in Sydney, his ten-year-old daughter Rachel, who later married the violinist Andrew Moore, becoming the principal dancer and main attraction during the last months of this theatre. In December Lazar was made manager of the Theatre Royal until it closed in March 1838. He then was engaged at the new Victoria Theatre as actor and stage-manager. Attacks from the Sydney press on his limited acting capabilities and 'vulgar cockneyism' made him concentrate on management until the end of 1840 when he was engaged to appear in Adelaide at the Queen's Theatre, which had been built by Vaiben and Emanuel Solomon. By the standards of the time the theatre was large and well equipped and it opened on 11 January 1841 with Lazar playing Othello. On the same bill his daughter Rachel appeared in a farce and as a solo dancer. Lazar soon leased the Queen's Theatre and struggled valiantly amid the unpropitious early Adelaide atmosphere of puritanism, lack of general interest, and economic distress. Despite varied bills of Shakespeare, burlettas, innumerable farces and even some heroic attempts at opera he had to abandon his lease on 27 November 1842, and for a time he and his family again entrusted their theatrical fortunes to the more securely established eastern Australian cities. In May 1843, when the monopoly of Sydney's Victoria Theatre was threatened by the opening of the City Theatre, Lazar was brought back as manager until August 1844, and again in 1846. In these later years of his Sydney management he laid the foundations of opera and gave encouragement to local drama.

In 1848 Lazar returned to a more prosperous Adelaide and became associated with George Selth Coppin, who had successfully established the New Queen's Theatre in a building adjoining the old Queen's Theatre. This time Adelaide treated Lazar more kindly and he enjoyed considerable popularity. The climax of his theatrical career in Adelaide was his reappearance in 1850 at the old Queen's Theatre, remodelled and renamed the Royal Victoria Theatre. This time Lazar was highly regarded as a comedian and he enjoyed frequent praise in contemporary newspapers for his endeavours both as a manager and as actor. However, farces and racy productions of Shakespeare, often with songs and dances interpolated, required only a modicum of talent. Some of the comedy at the New Queen's Theatre was declared offensive and Lazar's management did little to encourage respectable audiences. Although not the first actor to play in Adelaide, John Lazar occupies an important place in the city's theatrical history since his was the first serious theatrical enterprise undertaken there.

In the 1850s Lazar's interest in the theatre lessened. He established a jeweller's and silversmith's business in Hindley Street, Adelaide, and with this commercial background launched into civic affairs, becoming an alderman of the Adelaide City Council in 1853. He was mayor of Adelaide from 1855 to 1858, and he retired from the council in 1859. In 1863 he went to New Zealand where, somewhat surprisingly, he filled a number of purely administrative posts in various local government organizations.

John Lazar married Julia Solomon in London on 2 November probably in 1823. His sons Samuel and Abraham both became prominently associated with the theatre in Australia. He died in New Zealand on 8 June 1879. A portrait in oils is in the Freemasons' Hall, Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Fischer, ‘The Professional Theatre in Adelaide, 1838-1922’, Australian Letters, vol 2, no 4, Mar 1960, pp 79-97
  • G. L. Fischer, The Queen's Theatre, Adelaide, 1840-1842 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

G. L. Fischer, 'Lazar, John (1801–1879)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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