- The Shuberts and Their Passing Shows: The Untold Tale of Ziegfeld's Rivals by Jonas Westover
To hear Hollywood tell it, Florenz Ziegfeld was the only revue man in town. While the glitz, glamour, and fame of the Follies survive into contemporary cultural memory, the contributions of the Shuberts' forays into the revue show have largely been forgotten. In The Shuberts and Their Passing Shows, Jonas Westover sets out to correct the historical perception that Ziegfeld was the only significant innovator of the revue idiom at the turn of the twentieth century. Along the way, Westover presents a rigorous reevaluation of the revue itself, revealing the many ways that the revue was a fast-paced and "shared milieu," a pliable patchwork crafted by many voices and hands and on many levels (9).
Tapping into and deftly wielding a gorgeous wealth of archival materials from the private Shubert Archive in New York, Westover presents a thorough and thoughtful exploration of the Shuberts' Passing Show series, which rivaled the Follies from 1912 to 1924, presenting a significant revision of scholarly understanding of the construction and impact of the revue idiom at the turn of the [End Page 258] twentieth century. In doing so, Westover highlights both the flexible, collaborative, and often frenetic nature of the revue and the significance of the Shuberts' contributions to this particular type of production.
The overall structure of the book covers the historical arc of the development and decline of the Broadway revue as a genre while filling that history with rich research about the many stars, contributors, songs, and scenes presented by the Shubert brothers. After a helpful list of "personages" affiliated with the Passing Show franchise and a brief introduction, nine chapters explore the development, nature, contributions, and significance of these revues to the genre and to American musical theater more broadly.
The first four chapters focus on the "creative forces" who came together to create each show and explore the Shubert iteration of the revue idiom more broadly. Westover details the many ways in which a variety of producers, writers, performers, and tradespeople contributed to each patchwork production, each leaving important traces on the outcome. From well-known stars like Fred Astaire, Charlotte Greenwood, and the Howard Brothers to the countless unknown chorus girls and chorus boys, Westover is careful to credit a variety of individuals' contributions to the Passing Shows, highlighting the ways in which small shifts in personnel impacted each show. In doing so, the author demonstrates how the inherent flexibility of the variety-centric revue allowed for the integration of many disparate styles, people, and ideas that were then deftly and quickly woven together by the Shuberts and their main writer and librettist, Harold Atteridge. In the fifth chapter, Westover extends the discussion of collaboration and flexibility to include logistical considerations of the music, dance, and scenic effect components of each production.
While the previous chapters are informative and provide critical insight into the many performers and creative personnel who collaborated to create these shows, it is in the final four chapters that Westover's assiduous work really shines. Building on the background information in the previous chapters, Westover takes his deep archival dive further into critical analyses. Chapter 6, "A Sure Cure for the Blues: Creating the Passing Show of 1914," focuses closely on one iteration of the franchise, tracing the development, creation, revision, transformation, and reception of the 1914 production. While Westover has published on this particular production before—specifically on the role and significance of Frank Saddler's orchestrations—this chapter provides a focused and detailed reading of the Shubert Archive's wealth of material on this production.1 Westover traces the structural development of the show through Atteridge's revised story- boarded scenarios, multiple scripts, and critical reviews to show how scenes, characters, and ideas transformed through the three-month production period. Significantly, Westover demonstrates the importance of Atteridge's conceptual framework, which structurally held the show together while capitalizing...