The American musical theatre came into its own in the 1920s with the rise of two rich and versatile theatrical forms, the revue and musical comedy. Revue arose in the early 1890s and saw its heyday from World War I to the opening years of the Great Depression. Especially toward the end of the '20s, revues were produced as single projects, but many were multi-year affairs: The Passing Show (1912-24), for instance, or the Ziegfeld Follies (1907-36), Garrick Gaieties (1925-26), Music Box Revues (1921-24), and George White's Scandals (1919-32).
As with vaudeville and minstrelsy, revues were composed of a series of acts; however, with revue the focus was mostly on music, the acts were usually tied together by an overarching theme, and in many cases (Irving Berlin's Music Box Revues, for instance) all of the music was written by the same songwriter or songwriting team. Most of the top songwriters of the 20th century got their start with revue or served time in the form before moving on: George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter. Some of these luminaries felt that it was not quite as uptown as writing for musical theatre, but the revue definitely a step up from writing one-off songs for Tin Pan Alley and provided an excellent platform for songwriters to get new numbers in front of people much more readily than was possible with a fully-formed musical. And indeed, many of the best songs in the Great American Songbook were written for these shows. They were ubiquitous and frequent and found their way from stage to film as the Great Depression made live theatre unviable.
Musical comedy was in many ways a joint venture of London's West End and Broadway. Theatre historians mark its rise with the Princess Theatre shows created by American Jerome Kern, and Brits Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse in the late 1910s--witty dialog with modern stories of everyday life (well, sort of) and playful lyrics carried along by great tunes. Musical comedy really hit its stride, however, in the mid-1920s with the brilliant, loosely-wrought shows featuring music by the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, Vincent Youmans, Cole Porter and many other songwriters of the hip 1920s who knew how to write with sass, verve, urbane wit and more than a little erudition: think Lady, Be Good, No, No, Nanette, A Connecticut Yankee, Oh, Kay, Funny Face, Whoopee!, Girl Crazy, Anything Goes, Babes In Arms…the list goes on and on! Superseded by classic musical theatre in the early 1940s (usually marked by Rodgers & Hammerstein's 1943 Oklahoma!, musical comedy remains a vital form to the present day.
Jesse Cloninger and The Emerald City Jazz Kings, fronted by Evynne Hollens, Shirley Andress, Michael Stone and Ian Whitcomb, offer up a delectable afternoon of musical theatre and revue gems from the 1920s and early '30s. It will be an afternoon not to be missed.
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(1930) Fine And Dandy - Paul James (w) Kay Swift (m)