American Musical Revue

American Musical Revue : From the Passing Show to Sugar Babies

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"In American musical theater, Bordman has become as important a historian as Stephen Sondheim is a writer," according to Library Journal. The author of the monumental American Musical Theater: A Chronicle ("absolutely the best reference book on its subject"--Newsweek) here completes his trilogy which began with American Operetta and American Musical Comedy, each focusing on a specific musical theatre genre. Revues--Broadway musicals where plot was unimportant or nonexistent and the emphasis was on comedy skits, specialty vocal and dance numbers, catchy songs, and chorus lines of beautiful girls--flourished for half a century, from the 1890s to about 1950. After looking at some forerunners of the revue form, Bordman examines the 1894 Passing Show, generally accepted as the first traditional revue and then traces the genre's development, its long decline and ultimate fate. He then pays homage to the apothesis of the revue, the almost yearly editions of the Ziegfeld Follies (1907-1927) which featured leading comics, singers, and songwriters and prided itself on "glorifying the American girl." In the 1930s, Bordman points out, revues were more modest in scale and more satiric in intent and featured performers like Fred Astaire, Fred Allen, Clifton Webb, and Ethel Waters. The postwar period, Bordman notes, saw few memorable revues and television took over many of the functions of the revue. The most successful recent revues--Ain't Misbehavin', Eubie, and Sophisticated Ladies--hve been primarily retrospective concerts of older music. So it may be that the revue now belongs simply to history. But as anyone knows who has ever been fortunate enough to see a revue--or to vicariously enjoy one through this book--what a legacy! About the Author Gerald Bordman's most recent book is The Oxford Companion to American Theatre.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 192 pages
  • 142.24 x 210.82 x 22.86mm | 340.19g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • halftones
  • 0195036301
  • 9780195036305

Review Text

In the third volume of his series on the major American musical theater genres, Bordman competently surveys the history of the musical "revue" from The Dramatic Review of 1868 through 1981's Sophisticated Ladies, focusing on the genre's heyday in the 1890s through the 1940s and its continuous evolution. In its original form, "revue" was defined as a "light entertainment" loosly connected by plot or theme, a blend of classic songs and comedy, embellished by chorus girls, magnificent scenery, and topical skits of often biting commentary on political events and personalities of the day (thus the term revue). This early species reached its artistic pinnacle in the Ziegfield Follies (1907-1929); the legendary producer, Bordman asserts, struck the proper balance between lavish spectacle, classic enduring songs by composers such as Irving Berlin, and the comedy of great clowns like Ed Wynn, Fanny Brice and W.C. Fields. Bordman charts the impressive roster of great American talent dotting the history of the genre, as well as the prominent influence of black theater upon it. Landmark revues such as The Passing Shows, George White Scandals, Beyond the Fringe, Side by Side by Sondheim and Ain't Misbehavin 'featured such diverse artists as Eddie Cantor, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Dudley Moore and Chita Rivera; music by composing giants like the Gershwins, Kern, Cohan, Rogers & Hart, Porter and Fats Waller; and writing by the likes of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The ideal "well-rounded" revue evolved over time into the sparer, less musical "meaningful" revues of the 1950s and 1960s, and into the current crop, like Eubie or Sophisticated Ladies, which are merely retrospectives of great music from the past. Bordman blames this decline (due greatly to the advent of TV) on the loss of that balance in music, comedy and spectacle which he feels was essential. Its capable but uninspired writing and schoolbook survey approach will limit general appeal. Of interest to musical theater aficionados and others who can utilize its wealth of research. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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