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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A revue is a type of multi-act popular theatrical entertainment that combines music, dance and sketches. The revue has its roots in nineteenth-century American popular entertainment and melodrama, but grew into a substantial cultural presence of its own during its golden years from ca. 1916-1932. Though most famous for their visual spectacle, revues frequently satirized contemporary figures, news, or literature. Due to high ticket prices, ribald publicity campaigns, and sometime embrace of prurient material, the revue was typically patronized by audience members who earned more and felt less restricted by middle-class social mores than their contemporaries in vaudeville. Like much of its era's popular entertainments, revue often featured material based on sophisticated, irreverent dissections of topical matter, public personae, and fads, though the primary attraction was found in the frank display of the female body.



George Lederer's The Passing Show (1894) is usually held to be the first successful American "review." The English spelling was used until 1907 when Florenz Ziegfeld popularized the French spelling. "Follies" is now sometimes (incorrectly) employed as an analog for "revue," though the term was proprietorial with Ziegfeld until his death in 1932. (Other popular proprietorial revue names included George White's "Scandals" and Earl Carroll's "Vanities.")


Revues are most properly understood as having amalgamated several theatrical traditions within the corpus of a single entertainment. Minstrelsy's olio section provided a structural map of popular variety presentation, while literary travesties highlighted an audience hunger for satire. Theatrical extravaganzas, in particular, moving panoramas, demonstrated a vocabulary of the spectacular. Burlesque, itself a bawdy hybrid of various theatrical forms, lent to classic revue an open interest in female sexuality and the masculine gaze.

Golden age

Revues enjoyed great success on Broadway from the World War I years until the Great Depression, when the stock market crash forced many revues from cavernous Broadway houses into smaller venues. (The shows did, however, continue to infrequently appear in large theatres well into the 1950s.) The high ticket prices of many revues helped ensure audiences distinct from other live popular entertainments during their height of popularity (late 1910s-1940s). In 1914, for example, the Follies charged $5.00 for an opening night ticket; at that time, many cinema houses charged a $0.10-0.25, while low-priced vaudeville seats could be had for $0.15. Among the many popular producers of revues, Florenz Ziegfeld played the greatest role in developing the classical revue through his glorification of a new theatrical "type," "the American girl." Famed for his often bizarre publicity schemes and continual debt, Ziegfeld joined Earl Carroll, George White, and the Shubert Brothers as the leading producing figure of the American revue's golden age.

Revues took advantage of their high revenue stream to lure away performers from other media, often offering exorbitant weekly salaries without the unrepentant travel demanded by other entertainments. Performers such as Eddie Cantor, Anna Held, W. C. Fields, Bert Williams, and the Fairbanks Twins found great success on the revue stage. One of Cole Porter's early shows was Raymond Hitchcock's revue Hitchy-Koo (1919). Composers or lyricists such as Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Irving Berlin, and George M. Cohan also enjoyed a tremendous reception on the part of audiences. Sometimes, an appearance in a revue provided a key early entry into entertainment. Largely due to their centralization in New York City and adroit use of publicity, revues proved particularly adept at introducing new talents to the American theatre. Rodgers and Hart, one of the great composer/lyricist teams of the American musical theatre, followed up their early Columbia University student revues with the successful Garrick Gaieties (1925). Comedian Fanny Brice, following a brief period in burlesque and amateur variety, bowed to revue audiences in Ziegfeld's Follies of 1910. Specialist writers / composers of revues have included Sandy Wilson, Noel Coward, John Stromberg, George Gershwin, Earl Carroll and Flanders and Swann.

Film revues

With the introduction of talking pictures, in 1926, studios immediately began filming acts from the stage. Such film shorts gradually replaced the live entertainment that had often accompanied cinema exhibition. By 1928, studios began planning to film feature length versions of popular musicals and revues from the stage. The lavish films, noted by many for a sustained opulence unrivaled in Hollywood until the 1950s epics, reached a breadth of audience never found by the stage revue, all while significantly underpricing the now-faltering theatrical shows. A number of revues were released by the studios, many of which were filmed entirely (or partly) in color. The most notable examples of these are: The Show of Shows (Warner Brothers, 1929), Hollywood Revue of 1929 (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1929), The Movietone Follies of 1929 (Fox Film Corporation, 1929), Paramount on Parade (Paramount, 1930), New Movietone Follies of 1930 (Fox, 1930) and The King of Jazz (Universal, 1930). Even Britain jumped on the bandwagon and produced an expensive revues such as Harmony Heaven (British International Pictures, 1929), Elstree Calling (BIP, 1930) and The Musical Revue Of 1959 (BIP,1960)

Contemporary Revues

Revues are often common today as student entertainment (such as the The University of Canterbury Law Revue, Otago University Capping Show, Cambridge Footlights, Durham Revue, The Leeds Tealights, Oxford Revue, St George's Medics Revue Medleys, University of Sydney Revues, University of New South Wales Revues, the University of Queensland Med Revue and the University of Queensland Law Revue) and use pastiche, in which contemporary songs are re-written in order to comment on the college or courses in a humorous nature. While most comic songs will only be heard within the revue they were written for, sometimes they become more widely known, such as A Transport of Delight about the big red London bus by Flanders and Swann, who first made their name in a revue titled At the Drop of a Hat.

Towards the end of the 20th century, a sub-genre of revue largely dispensed with the sketches, founding narrative structure within a song cycle in which the material is culled from varied works.. This type of revue may or may not have identifiable characters and a rudimentary story line but, even when it does, the songs remain the focus of the show (for example, Closer Than Ever by Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire). This type of revue usually showcases songs written by a particular composer or songs made famous by a particular performer. Examples of the former are Side By Side By Sondheim (music/lyrics Stephen Sondheim), Eubie! (Eubie Blake) Tom Foolery (Tom Lehrer), and Five Guys Named Moe (songs made popular by Louis Jordan). The eponymous nature of these later revues suggest a continued embrace of a unifying authorial presence in this seemingly scattershot genre, much as was earlier the case with Ziegfeld, Carrol, et al.

Medics Revues

It is a current and fairly longstanding tradition of Medical Schools within the UK to put on Revues each year, combining comedy sketches, songs, parodies, films and soundbites. Like the amazing Bute Revue at University of St. Andrews directed by Rohan Munir, a very well accomplished and successful director, writer and standup comedian. He is most famous for revolutionising the word "NO" in the tiny town of St. Andrews. He is also the only coconut truely liked by Bassam and Mudabbir. Each year, the Revue casts of each of the 5 Medical Schools of the University of London compete in the competition known as the United Hospitals Revue in an attempt to win the Moira Stewart trophy. In 2007-8, the winners were GKT, and the runners-up were the St George's Medics Revue. As well as performing at their respective universities, shows will often be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

See also


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Revue" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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