From the Bowery to Broadway

From the Bowery to Broadway : Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theatre

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Before Ziegfeld launched his Follies, before the Shubert brothers built their empire, Lew Fields' productions were the toast of Broadway. For the "smart set" in the luxury box seats and the shopkeepers and clerks in the gallery, an evening at Weber & Fields' Music Hall was the hottest ticket in town, a chance to see the biggest stars of the era - Lillian Russell, Fay Templeton, David Warfield, DeWolf Hopper, and the "Dutch" knockabout comedy team of Weber & Fields. From the Bowery to Broadway offers a panoramic view of the early history of the American popular theater through the career of a consummate showman. In the half-century between his stage debut - a bumbling youngster in a Bowery amateur show - and his farewell appearance on the opening night bill at Radio City Music Hall, Lew Fields was involved in almost every form of popular entertainment, from the dime museum, circus, the minstrel show and vaudeville, to revues, "book musicals, " and operettas, as well as recordings, silent films, radio, and talkies. Here are the triumphs and disasters of a singular life in show biz. Born Moses Schoenfeld, Lew Fields crossed the Atlantic in steerage at age five and grew up in the mean streets of the Bowery in the 1870s and 1880s. At the age of ten, to escape his father's sweatshop, he began performing on stage with his school chum Joe Weber. As teenagers, they trouped through variety circuits all over the country; before they reached thirty, they had their own Broadway theater and all-star stock company. Going solo, Fields blossomed into an innovative producer who helped raise the Broadway musical to the pinnacle of show biz (his scores of credits include five of the early Rodgers and Hartshows). Fields' influence was extraordinary: his raucous "Mike and Meyer" knockabout comedy routines with Weber were the prototypes for generations of acts to follow, and the legacy of the satirical revues performed nightly at the Music Hall lives on in the irreverent topical humoshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 569 pages
  • 185.42 x 254 x 45.72mm | 1,292.73g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 32 pp halftones, bibliography
  • 0195053818
  • 9780195053814

Review Text

Long-winded but unrevealing bio of Jewish-American vaudevillian Lew Fields, who produced Rodgers and Hart's first successes and fathered lyricist Dorothy Fields ("I Can't Give You Anything but Love, Baby") and musical librettists Herbert and Joseph Fields. Born Moses Schonfeld in 1867 in Eastern Europe, Fields came to Manhattan's Lower East Side at the age of five. Hoping to escape the drudgery of his father's sweatshop, he began a career performing in the dime museums that dotted the Bowery. His partner was Joseph Weber, and the two developed a knockabout comedy act, performing in German dialect as "Mike and Meyer." Eventually, they were able to open their own music hall, noted for Fields's elaborate satires of contemporary plays. Fields left the act in 1904, vowing to create a new type of musical comedy, one with a coherent plot and songs that furthered the action rather than interrupting it - a goal he apparently failed to achieve, A decade-long association with the Schuberts, who took Fields for a financial ride even as they stifled his artistic growth, was followed, in the 20's, by his major work as a producer - launching, with his son Herbert, the first musicals of the young songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart. A life story as rich as this one raises many questions - about ethnicity, the nature of comedy, and the difficulty of balancing artistic goals and popular appeal - but the authors (Fields's nephew and the nephew's son) address none of them adequately, opting instead for elaborate ancestor worship ("while he lacked the charisma of Ziegfield and Cohan...Fields' influence has been subtler and more pervasive"). (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Armond Fields

About the Authors: Armond Fields, author of two previous biographies, is the great-nephew of Lew Fields, and the father of his co-author. L. Marc Fields is a screenwriter and a teacher in the Graduate Film Program at New York University.show more

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