Follies, Scandals, and Other Diversions: From Zigfeld to the Shuberts
According to Revue (1971), a British volume by Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson,

“Revue, originally called ‘end of the year review,’ is a form of theatrical production which aims to show a succession of scenes in dialog and song representing such incidents or individuals as have preoccupied the public to a greater or lesser extent during the course of the year.’

That is a perfectly good definition for the revue as it originated in Paris. Over the years, however, it has changed so much that the definition no longer applies, especially since at the moment the revue is, like the buffalo, the whooping crane, and common courtesy, almost extinct.

Not so long ago there came from London four sprightly gentlemen who wrote, acted in, and made a great success of Beyond the Fringe, which consisted of a series of comedy sketches, without music and without what was once the most important element in a revue, "les girls."

Robert Baral has written an informative and comprehensive book, also called Revue (1962), subtitled A Nostalgic Reprise of the Great Broadway Period. He claims that "during the 1920s and 1930s the most exciting openings were the musical shows—revues especially." That was the Great Broadway Period, and the man who undoubtedly helped most to make it so was Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., the "Glorifier of the American Girl." He had his rivals here and abroad, and he had his failures, but no one ever reached the opulent heights of his best Follies, as he called his annual spectacles. In fact, after Ziegfeld's death in 1932 other producers tried to do Follies as late as the fifties, but none attained the maestro's success.

The Follies started in 1907 but were not called that until 1911. There were revues before then, combinations of vaudeville, pantomime, circus, extravaganza, burlesque, travesty, minstrel show, cabaret, and various other elements. In the first decade of the century the comedy team of Weber and Fields appeared with the lovely Lillian Russell. There was also the Hippodrome, a vast auditorium on Sixth Avenue, occupying the block from Forty-second to Forty-third Street (don't look for it, it's gone). It was a place of magic that I haunted in my boyhood. Part of its show would be a circus. Another part would be musical numbers. Then came the spectacles—such as the Battle of Port Arthur in the Russo–Japanese War— a travelogue, or other marvels. The finale, however, was constant, with the girls walking into a huge tank of water and disappearing. Some wags claimed that they came up at Jack's, a nightclub across the street, where the blades of the town awaited them.

Ziegfeld didn't go in for dousing his girls. His idea was to show them off in glittering and revealing silk and satin costumes by the best couturiers, in tableaux staged by Ben Ali Haggin, against glorious sets by artists such as Joseph Urban. Among Ziegfeld's beauties were Marion Davies, Justine Johnstone, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Mae Murray, Kay Laurell, the stately Dolores, Virginia Bruce, and Paulette Goddard.

Another outstanding feature of a Ziegfeld show was its comedy. There is a rumor that Ziegfeld actually didn't like comedians and only used them to attract audiences. True or false, he picked many of the great clowns of all time—W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Fannie Brice, Bert Williams (one of the first blacks to be in this type of Broadway show), Will Rogers, Ed Wynn, and on and on. Ziegfeld also hired some of the major songwriters of his time, including Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and George Gershwin. Berlin wrote "A Pretty Girl Is like a Melody" for one of the Follies, and it became Ziegfeld's anthem. It was only one of the dozens of great numbers that originated in the Follies.

Besides the Follies and an occasional lavish musical comedy, Ziegfeld initiated the Midnight Frolic, a cabaret show on the roof of the New Amsterdam Theatre, which usually housed the Follies….
—George Oppenheimer, from the liner notes

Various Artists

Follies, Scandals, and Other Diversions: From Zigfeld to the Shuberts

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