A History of The Musical

Burlesque
by John Kenrick
(Copyright 1996-2003) • • • •

Misunderstood Genre Lydia Thompson Burlesque Format Training Ground

(The images below are thumbnails – click on them to see larger versions.)

Misunderstood Genre
Lydia Thompson, the audacious British showgirl who's troupe of blonde beauties made burlesque a sensation in America.

Most people think that "burlesque" means female strippers walking a runway to a bump and grind beat. But that only fits the form in its declining years. At its best, burlesque was a rich source of music and comedy that kept America, audiences laughing from 1840 through the 1960s. Some sources try to wrap burlesque in a mantle of pseudo-intellectual respectability. Yes, it involved transgressive comedy and songs, but the primary attraction of burlesque was sex . . in the form of ribald humor and immodestly dressed women. Although many dismissed burlesque as the tail-end of show business, its influence reaches through the development of popular entertainment into the present. Without question, however, burlesque's principal legacy as a cultural form was its establishment of patterns of gender representation that forever changed the role of the woman on the American stage and later influenced her role on the screen. . . The very sight of a female body not covered by the accepted costume of bourgeois respectability forcefully if playfully called attention to the entire question of the "place" of woman in American society.
- Robert G. Allen, Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture (Univ. of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1991), pp. 258-259.

In the 19th Century, the term "burlesque" was applied to a wide range of comic plays, including non-musicals. Beginning in the 1840s, these works entertained the lower and middle classes in Great Britain and the United States by making fun of (or "burlesquing") the operas, plays and social habits of the upper classes. These shows used comedy and music to challenge the established way of looking at things. Everything from Shakespearean drama to the craze for Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind could inspire a full-length burlesque spoof. On Broadway, the burlesque productions of actor managers

When Broadway's The Black Crook became a massive hit in 1866. Demand for tickets was such that Ixion soon moved to Broadway's most prestigious musical house. the American press praised burlesques. the scripts from these early burlesques were not published. In fact. Underdressed women playing sexual aggressors. combining good looks with impertinent comedy – in a production written and managed by a woman? Unthinkable! No wonder men and adventurous wives turned out in droves. All told. they used melodies from operatic arias and popular songs of the day. the idea of young ladies appearing onstage in tights was a powerful challenge. its troop of ballerinas in flesh-colored tights served notice that respectable American audiences were ready to fork over big bucks for sexually stimulating entertainment. these shows relied less on strong scripts or songs than on sheer star power. To prevent unauthorized productions. Instead. Thompson and her imitators did not bother with such mundane matters as hiring composers.000. Lydia Thompson The original program to Ixion. We can only guess at the exact content and staging of these shows. but turned vicious under pressure from influential do-gooders. In the Victorian age. but it is clear that audiences were delighted. when proper women went to great lengths to hide their physical form beneath bustles. incorporating them into the action for comic or sentimental effect. In the Victorian age. a mythological spoof that had women in revealing tights playing men's roles. Suggestive rather than bawdy. Lydia Thompson's British burlesque troupe became New York's biggest theatrical sensation. underdressed women to keep audiences interested. All it took was a daring producer to take things to the next level. By the 1860s. when proper women went to great lengths to hide their physical form beneath bustles. the idea of young ladies appearing onstage in tights was a powerful challenge. Niblo's Garden – the same theatre where The Black Crook had triumphed two years earlier. But the cries of the self-righteous had an unintended effect. hoops and frills. Thompson's first New York season grossed over $370. Their first hit was Ixion (1868). the material changed so often (sometimes from week to week) that a written script would serve little purpose. At first. Broadway's first burlesque hit. In the late 1860s. British burlesque relied on the display of shapely. hoops and frills.William Mitchell. Editorials and sermons condemning burlesque as "indecent" only made the form more . John Brougham and Laura Keene were among Broadway's most popular hits of the mid-19th Century. making Thompson and her "British blondes" the hottest thing in American show business.

etc. Composer Edward E. not to offend. The popular stage spectacle Ben Hur inspired "The High Rollers" troupe to produce Bend Her.). ACT THREE: A complete one-act musical burlesque. the circuits came to be known as wheels -. feminine wit was gradually replaced by a determination to reveal as much of the feminine form as local laws allowed. But obscenity and vulgarity were avoided – the point was to spoof and (to a limited extent) titillate. Burlesque underwent a crucial change when Michael Leavitt produced burlesque variety shows using something similar to the three act minstrel show format – • • • ACT ONE: The ensemble entertains with songs and gags. medium and big time theatres. These ranged from Shakespearean take offs like Much Ado About a Merchant of Venice to a Gilbert and Sullivan spoof called The Mick Hair-Do. The popular melodrama Trilby was spoofed in 'Twill Be.the largest being the Columbia (Eastern U. burlesquers spent an entire forty week season touring as part of one complete troupe. the story of a statue that comes to life and is so disgusted by human folly that he finally chooses to turn back into stone. . with scantily clad chorines as Roman charioteers. The show ran over 500 performances in New York and toured for years. Any stage hit could become a target for humor. Burlesque left little to the imagination.S. Because big time burlesque companies played these theatres in regular rotations. For three decades. Rintz's Female Minstrels" from the 1880s onwards in a stylish burlesque of allmale troupes. By 1905. many with female managers.Rice teamed with actor Henry Dixey to create Adonis (1874). burlesque theatre owners formed vaudeville-style circuits of small. dressed in formal evening clothes.popular! Demand was such that copycat burlesque companies soon cropped up. leading "Mme. Mutual. and Empire (Western U. this system made burlesque a dependable source of steady work. • • Mabel Saintley became America's first native-born burlesque star. skits.).) wheels. comics. Burlesque Format As male managers took over the form in the 1880s. ACT TWO: An "olio" of variety acts (singers. Unlike vaudeville performers who sought weekly bookings as individual acts. making the handsome Dixey the top matinee idol of his time. • Americans began creating their own burlesques. and some proved extremely popular.S.

Fields. Fanny Brice. In time. 1992. seltzer in the pants. insisting that only those who were "washed up" would stoop so low. Training Ground Long before his "Cowardly Lion" days. appearing under an assumed name. Red Skelton.The biggest burlesque star of the early 20th Century was dancer Millie DeLeon. and helped to give burlesque a raunchy reputation. jugglers. to avoid embarrassment. p. 28-29) that burlesque – not vaudeville – was the real "break-in ground" where amateurs could prove if they had the talent and determination to survive in show business. etc. So what was burlesque comedy like? A History of The Musical Burlesque ." the more likely you were to suffer the worst of the physical humor (pies in the face.). All used the same basic routines. Note the outlandish costume and exaggerated make-up. Bert Lahr. they were already experienced pros. Burlesque's richest legacy was its comedy." and his sidekicks were known as the second. including future musical comedy stars Jackie Gleason. but no two played them the same way. burlesque bills began and ended with "burlettas. By the time most performers reached vaudeville. Joey Faye and Bob Hope. required attire for burlesque comics. comics. W. magicians and specialty acts were all part of the mix. Phil Silvers. Leon Errol. Such shenanigans got her arrested on occasion. third. The lower you were in the "bunch. Herb Goldman points out in Fanny Brice: The Original Funny Girl (Oxford: NYC. an attractive brunette who tossed her garters into the audience and occasionally neglected to wear tights. Although vaudevillians looked down on burlesque performers. many a vaude trouper avoided bankruptcy by appearing in burlesque – usually under an assumed name. Bobby Clark." extended skits that made fun of hit shows and popular topics. – supposedly because they would resort to slipping on banana peels in order to get a laugh. The lead comic in a burlesque show was referred to as the "top banana. In between came a variety olio where singers.C. While it was common for burlesque stars to graduate into vaudeville. However. Some wondrous comedians learned their craft working the burlesque wheels. etc.Part II by John Kenrick (Copyright 1996 & 2004) • The Skits . many a vaudeville veteran hit the burlesque wheels during dry spells. Bert Lahr polished his comic skills in burlesque. vaudevillians considered it a fatal disgrace to appear in burlesque.

Caller: (Exasperated) Well then. Another popular bit was aimed at the convoluted names of nepotistic businesses and law firms – Man at Desk: (picks up phone) Hello. Comic: And? Injured Man: Riley came home! (A buxom Girl drops her purse. Some examples – (Injured Man crosses stage in assorted bandages and casts. Man at Desk: He's dead these six years.) Minister: Do you believe in the hereafter? Woman: Certainly. Cohen and Cohen. I do! Minister: (Leering) Then you know what I'm here after. (Minister walks up to a beautiful young woman. Girl: What are you begging for? You're old enough to ask for it. but the focus was on making fun of sex and what people were willing to do in the pursuit of it. Cohen.• • • • Stripping Death Knells Revivals Legacy (The images below are thumbnails – click on them to see larger versions. Caller: Then let me speak to Mr. Cohen. . Cohen.) Comic: I beg your pardon. and a Comic tries to return it.) Comic: What happened to you? Injured Man: I was living the life of Riley. let me speak to Mr. Man: He's on vacation. Courtrooms. Sexual innuendo was always present.) The Skits From the 1880s onwards. burlesque comedy was built around settings and situations familiar to lower and working class audiences. as were examining rooms ruled over by quack physicians. It was the descendant of several earlier routines that involved two men exchanging an intricate series of misunderstood words. Cohen. We keep his name on the door out of respect. Many burlesque routines spoofed social conventions and linguistic idiosyncrasies. Cohen." which had fun with the sometimes confusing nicknames given to popular baseball players. street corners and inner city schoolrooms were favorites. Caller: Let me speak to Mr. The most famous was Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's glorious "Who's On First.

There are a dozen or more popular legends as to how the strip was born – telling how a dancer's shoulder strap broke. Alexander's Strip Tease (Knight Publishers. M. 120123) – Jerk – audience member Yock – a belly laugh Skull – make a funny face Talking woman – delivers lines in comedy skits Cover – perform someone's scenes for them The asbestos is down – the audience is ignoring the jokes From hunger – a lousy performer Mountaineer – a new comic. "That ought to show the little sucker. The strip tease was introduced as a desperate bid to offer something that vaudeville. Some examples found in H. Talk about justice! Burlesque performers developed a unique backstage language of their own. Many routines showed the underdog getting the best of a confrontation. fresh from the Catskill resort circuit Boston version – a cleaned-up routine Blisters – a stripper's breasts Cheeks – a stripper's backside Gadget – a G-string Trailer – the strut taken before a strip Quiver – shake the bust Shimmy – Shake the posterior Bump – swing the hips forward Grind – full circle swing of the pelvis Milk it – get an audience to demand encores Brush your teeth! . Cohen! Man: Speaking. NY. Papa then proclaims. it had been around since Little Egypt introduced the "hootchie-kooch" at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. pp. the old burlesque circuits closed down. In fact. Burlesque promoters like the Minsky brothers took the strip tease out of the back rooms and put it onstage. 1938. or some similar nonsense.comedian's response to a Bronx cheer "Somethin' Wrong With Strippin'?" In the 1920s.Man: He's out to lunch. One skit involved a man pushing a baby carriage. While stripping . film and radio could not. Caller: (Yells) Then let me speak to Mr. and had always remained a mainstay of stag parties." whereupon a stream of yellow liquid flies out of the carriage and hits him square in the face. The baby screams until the man takes a beer bottle and beats the unseen tyke into silence. leaving individual theater owners to get by as best they could on their own.

even though pasties were far more vulgar that a plain naked breast. taking many classic routines with them. Without New York City. who kept coming up with legal loopholes for more than a decade. After one of her breasts "accidentally" bounced out of her costume – Blaze tripped to the microphone. The more the gals took off. Men no longer needed strippers to feed their fantasies. and their routines became increasingly graphic. it also gave burlesque a sleazy reputation. including a now legendary raid on Minsky's in Manhattan. Strippers had to walk a fine line between titillation and propriety – going too far (let alone "all the way") could land them in jail for corrupting public morals. which had been the hub of burlesque's universe." An article in Esquire (July 1964) describes how Blaze Starr played her strip for laughs. "What are you doing out there. male audiences kept burlesque profitable through most of the Great Depression. To avoid total nudity but still give the audience what it wanted. As moralists once again expressed outrage. This was usually enough to keep the cops at bay.drew in hoards of randy men. Burlesque managers relied on their lawyers. The comedy was no longer a key attraction. hard core pornography became readily available. the more the audiences liked it." He was not altogether wrong – by this time. Looking down at her exposed breast. The best burlesque comics segued into radio. the ladies covered their groins with flimsy G-strings and used "pasties" to cover their nipples. she said. The strippers soon dominated burlesque. the remaining promoters around the US presented increasingly tacky strip shows. By the 1960s. most burlesque shows had degenerated into a series of bump and grind strip routines interrupted by lifeless comic bits. men went to burlesque shows to watch women strip -. but by this point. The few remaining burlesque shows were campy softporn. Death Knells Legal crackdowns began in the mid-1920s.period. dismissing them as purveyors of "filth. you gorgeous thing?" Then she covered herself. Reform-minded Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia closed New York's remaining burlesque houses in 1937. "You got to tell . Burlesque managers were so resilient that LaGuardia outlawed the use of the words "burlesque" or "Minsky" in public advertising! Some sources praise the burlesque comics of the 1920s and 30s. burlesque was a relatively safe source of titillation for married men and youngsters alike. At a time when fear of personal scandal and sexual disease were rampant. including fan dancer Sally Rand and former vaudevillian Rose Lousie Hovick – better known as the comically intellectual Gypsy Rose Lee. film and television. Some gave stripping an artistic twist and graduated to general stardom. with even the strippers aiming for "yocks.

"Who's going to powder my butt?" Revivals: "Chorus Girls. Allen.Dr. . Then she flung herself on the couch and quickly stripped down to a transparent bra and black garter pants. Allen identified more than 1. and therefore the earth does not yawn at our feet . selfish. ." she said. . or win five aces in a poker game. She produced a power puff and asked rhetorically. He represents man stripped of moral pretense. always giving inordinate attention to the strip tease. These skits formed the basis for a college revue that eventually grew into Sugar Babies. depending on your point of view. . from the Sugar Babies souvenir program. Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason recycled many an old "burly" gag on their comedy telecasts. The jokes are classy or corny. or receive an invitation from a lovely lady to meet her 'round the corner for unspecified delights. Jugglers and a Sentimental Tune" Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller in the Broadway revue Sugar Babies (1979). lazy. its legacy is very much alive. Ralph G. etc. and the Austin Powers films are clearly carrying on the tradition of early burlesque -. period songs and lovely chorus girls. A burlesque comedian always plays the child of nature. Every time a comedian does a "spit take" or tells a joke with a double-meaning. because in nine bits out of ten. Big screen spoofs such as Young Frankenstein.making fun of well-known entertainments. Over the decades. "it makes them grow" . or whenever Saturday Night Live skewers politicians and movie stars. Professor Ralph G. several revues tried to revive the burlesque format – usually with a well-known stripper like Ann Corio heading the cast. you are watching burlesque in action. he blunders into some kind of dubious success . but never a pathetic one. social mores. Many graduates of burlesque became familiar faces on television – and the likes of Red Skelton. With mildly raunchy sketches.them they're pretty. During more than a decade of research. But most of us love jokes we know. Shrek 2 (2004) is a superb example of the kind of . Spaceballs. It took a tribute to the pre-stripper era to restore burlesque's fading reputation. The Broadway hit Sugar Babies (1979 . frequently a victim. If only we too could make the law an ass. . They reassure us. .208 perfs) starred MGM veterans Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller. Corio and others penned books about the genre.800 basic burlesque comedy sketches that performers had "borrowed" and recycled for decades. The only striptease routine in the show ended when a chorus girl removed her brassiere – unleashing a floor-length evening gown! The key to the show's success was the comedy. . 1980 Legacy: Burlesque Today? While the "golden age of burlesque" is long gone.1. this lavish show caught the comic spirit of 1930s burlesque's comic spirit while making it look classier than it had ever really been.

For the details . burlesque is still alive and giggling. getting in good natured jabs at a wide variety of comic targets while challenging audiences to look beyond appearances -. Is it too early to fully assess this trend. lower Broadway was New York's busiest thoroughfare. By the time vaudeville and burlesque were in full swing.and Springer audiences are eerily reminiscent of those who sought tacky thrills at bump and grind houses a few decades ago. a new generation is open to re-evaluating both the word and the format.200 seat auditorium.finding true beauty and bravery in unlikely characters. every bit as congested with traffic as it is today. . recognizing the spirit of spoofery that made burlesque a potent form of entertainment back in the 1860s. Broadway was already home to several thriving forms of musical theatre. and all appeal to a nation-wide audience.) Accidental Birth The ornate interior of Niblo's Garden as seen in an 1855 newspaper sketch. strippers and specialty acts that offer a new spin on the old "burly-q" mix. a spate of "new burlesque" shows are cropping up on both sides of the Atlantic.comedy that Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes offered in the 1860s. Every time The Jerry Springer Show airs a digitally obscured set of bared female breasts. Actors needed solid vocal technique to be heard in this 3. featuring comics. All of these entertainments have their righteous critics. In 1866. but the fact that such shows have spontaneously sprung up in places as diverse as Manhattan. At the dawn of a new millennium. but with temperamental horses and . Why? I would suggest that there is a natural human need for the bold comic challenge that burlesque poses to the social. . Montreal and Oslo suggests there is a widespread interest crossing all sorts of physical and generational barriers. Now. History of the Musical Stage 1860s: The Black Crook by John Kenrick (Copyright 1996 & 2003) • • • Accidental Birth Script Sample Why a Landmark? (The images below are thumbnails – click on them to see larger versions. cultural and sexual status quo. it is a classic burlesque tease -. The tawdrier burlesque tradition lives on too. when it was linked to witless soft porn strip revues in seedy venues. In the early 2000s. The word "burlesque" was seriously tarnished by the mid-20th Century.

The fairy army then goes to war with the Count and his evil minions. Weber's Der Freischutz. Like any sensible manager. a sometime actor and man who would invent the bigtime Broadway musical. demons drag the evil magician Hertzog into hell. Broadway's first mega-hit musical began to take shape. Fairy Queen of the Golden Realm – who was masquerading as the bird. a 3. Barras objected to having his derivative text "cheapened" by the inclusion of musical numbers. The original cast program for The Black Crook. (Are you still following this?) The grateful Queen whisks Rudolph to safety in fairyland before helping to reunite him with his beloved Amina. Wheatley was stuck. He held the rights to a dull melodrama that he hoped to sweeten with lavish production values and a stack of mediocre songs by assorted composers. he saves the life of a dove.500 bonus secured his silence.piles of their manure added to the mix. he was just trying to keep his theater in business. Its manager was William Wheatley.000 to produce The Black Crook (1866 . Theaters abounded in Manhattan. and these growing masses of people craved entertainment. The Count is defeated. Historians now argue about specifics.200 seat auditorium at the corner of Broadway and Prince Streets that boasted the most well equipped stage in the city. When playwright Charles M. Wheatley made sure his production offered plenty to keep theatergoer's minds off the inane plot and forgettable score. The ancient Hertzog stays alive by providing the Devil (Zamiel. leaving promoters Henry C. The Black Crook's tortured plot stole elements from Goethe's Faust. Not that he intended to invent anything. Amid chaos. who tries to win the affection of the lovely Amina by placing her boyfriend Rodolphe in the clutches of Hertzog. a $1. As post-Civil War business boomed. and Rodolphe and Amina live happily ever after. The opening night performance on September 12 lasted a bottom-numbing five and a half hours. One of the most popular venues was Niblo’s Garden. but audiences were too dazzled to complain. Salvation came in the unexpected form of a fire that destroyed New York's elegant Academy of Music. a nasty crook-backed master of black magic (hence the show's title).474). With the fall season set to start in a few weeks. and several other well-known works. there was a sharp increase in the city's working and middle class population. The entrance to Niblo's Garden was depicted on this mid-20th Century cigarette card. It told the story of the evil Count Wolfenstein. but at some point Jarrett & Palmer went to Wheatley and a deal was made. Jarrett and Harry Palmer with a costly Parisian ballet troupe and a shipload of handsome stage sets. "The Arch Fiend") with a fresh soul every New Year's Eve. which magically turns out to be Stalacta. including a "transformation scene" that mechanically converted a rocky grotto into a fairyland throne room in full view of the . There were dazzling special effects. Wheatley later claimed that he spent the then-unheard of sum of $25. While an unknowing Rodolphe is being led to this hellish fate.

The troupe's prima ballerina. While that may be an overstatement.) America's railroad system had expanded and upgraded during the war. and delighted audiences of all classes and ages. and the songs had little to do with stories that always involved whimsical trips to fairyland. But the show's key draw was its underdressed female dancing chorus. some "respectable" women attended The Black Crook heavily veiled. It sounds laughable now. when a similar hit from six years earlier is now forgotten? The Seven Sisters (1860) starred Laura Keene (a top actormanager of the day) and ran for a then-whopping 253 performances. Half-clad women? Who could miss seeing such a daring display! At a time when New York productions were happy to run two or three weeks. A script sample from The Black Crook. This substantially increased the potential audience for popular entertainment. The Black Crook did prove how profitable musical theater could be in the United States. known as extravaganzas. British theatre historian Sheridan Morley (Spread A Little Happiness.audience. 1987. American or otherwise. became the toast of New York. . So why did The Black Crook become such a phenomenon. Act I Scene 1 Why a Landmark? Controversy sells tickets. 15) suggests that The Black Crook was the first musical. so direct comparisons are impossible. During three decades of touring the United States. and the show was revived on Broadway eight times. respectable women no longer felt tied to their homes and could attend the theatre. choreographed in semi-classical style by David Costa. The Black Crook ran for more than a year. grossing over a million dollars. It featured the same sort of magical special effects and scene changes. but this display was the most provocative thing on any respectable stage. However. p. No copies of Seven Sisters score or libretto are known to survive. A period print shows what Niblo's Garden looked like from the stage during a performance of The Black Crook. New York: Thames and Hudson. New tours popped up for decades to come. The Black Crook spawned a host of similar stage spectacles with fantasy themes. Imagine (if you dare) a hundred fleshy ballerinas in skin-colored tights singing "The March of the Amazons" while prancing about in a moonlit grotto. and righteous attacks from pulpits and newspaper editorial columns made The Black Crook the hottest ticket on Broadway. The Black Crook earned millions of dollars. making it easier and more affordable for large productions to tour. None gave much care to plot or characterization. (Even so. Marie Bonfanti. we can say that The Black Crook's greater success resulted from two changes brought about by the Civil War -• • After running businesses and hospitals during the war years.

hoops and frills. This is an actual size image. This page repeats some information found in Musicals101's History of Burlesque.) British Imports Lydia Thompson. the comedy low and heavy handed. By featuring women in both male and female roles. with a bit of sex appeal thrown in. Full length burlesque musicals were almost as lavish as extravaganzas.But the best of these early musicals were clean and entertaining. These were disposable theatre works. and acting as sexual aggressors was a powerful challenge to the status . History of the Musical Stage 1870s-1880s: Burlesques and Pantomimes by John Kenrick (Copyright 1996 & 2003) • • • British Imports Burlesque Extravaganzas Pantomimes (The images below are thumbnails – click on them to see larger versions.or at the high-minded plays and operas the rich admired. so it may take a few moments to download. In the Victorian age. Burlesque moved to a new level of popularity when English star Lydia Thompson and her troupe of "British Blondes" came to Broadway in a mythological spoof entitled Ixion (1868 . The idea of young ladies appearing onstage in tights. Click here to see an original cast program for Ixion. Thompson's production set off an uproar. and Verdi's popular opera Il Trovatore inspired a burlesque called Kill Trovatore! (1867).104). all clad in revealing tights. designed to run for a week or two before being swiftly forgotten. Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice was spoofed in Shylock: A Jerusalem Hearty Joke (1853). so they became an established part of what was then referred to as "the show business. the audacious British showgirl who's troupe of blonde beauties made burlesque musicals a sensation in America. but aimed their comedy at specific targets. with story lines that allowed lower class audiences to laugh at the habits of the rich -. The first Broadway burlesques appeared in the 1840s. but we do know from critical revues that the scores were entirely borrowed." The next musical form to rise on Broadway was full length burlesque. None of the scripts survive. But these shows were nothing like the bump-and-grind girlie shows of the 20th Century. proper women hid every angle of their body beneath bustles.

" which only made the form more popular. . Rice then . these companies fell under male control. At first. The very sight of a female body not covered by the accepted costume of bourgeois respectability forcefully if playfully called attention to the entire question of the "place" of woman in American society. Over time. Instead of relying on borrowed songs. Dixey as Adonis (1884).Robert G. Thompson and her troupe combined good looks with impertinent humor in a production written and managed by a woman -. Thompson's first New York season grossed an extraordinary $370. his shows had original scores.000. Copycat burlesque companies soon appeared. becoming America's first prominent stage composer and producer. burlesque's principal legacy as a cultural form was its establishment of patterns of gender representation that forever changed the role of the woman on the American stage and later influenced her role on the screen. sometimes described by scholars as burlesque extravaganzas. of North Carolina Press. As a producer. Rice dictated tunes to an assistant. but soon turned vicious under pressure from prominent do-gooders. Her impact on the future development of popular entertainment in America was tremendous. Allen. pp. In addition. It became a surprise success during a summer run at Niblo's Garden. but we do know that Thompson and her imitators incorporated popular songs of the day into the action. however. In 1869. Demand for tickets was such that Ixion moved to Niblo's Garden – the same huge theatre where The Black Crook had triumphed two years earlier. a marble statue that comes to life and does not find human existence all it is cracked up to be. Rice dominated the genre. the display of the revealed female body was morally and socially transgressive. His scores graced two of Broadway's most popular burlesques – • Evangeline (1874) took its title (and little else) from Longfellow's popular poem. and sent dozens of companies out to tour the United States.quo. Produced with lavish stage effects. 258-259. With no formal musical training but a solid sense of melody.) Burlesque Extravaganzas Henry E. Edward E. many with female managers. Editorials and sermons condemned burlesque as "indecent. Broadway soon developed a homegrown form of burlesque. Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture (Chapel Hill: Univ. . and burlesque evolved into a form of variety entertainment. Without question. the press praised these burlesques. making Thompson the hottest thing in American show business. poking fun simultaneously at any number of targets. (More can be found on this in Musicals101's History of Burlesque. 1991). he brought eighteen burlesque musicals to Broadway.no wonder men and adventurous wives turned out in droves. these musicals spoofed anything from literary classics to contemporary celebrities. All told. None of the scripts for he burlesques survive. .

fantastic drollery of movement and witchery of musical embellishment. Adonis (1884 . His family name. This is an actual size image. inasmuch as he can trace his ancestry back through the Genozoic. Their possessors move on and off the stage unnoticed. Respectable Victorian women flocked to admire his muscular legs. Rice's final production was Excelsior Jr. negative temperaments go for nothing. until he finds it resting on the Archean Time. magnetism who compels the attention of the audience. which were on display in alabaster colored tights.as quoted in The Morning Journal. Dixey became a matinee idol.603) was Rice's most popular hit. and marked the Broadway debuts of future stars Fay Templeton and Lillian Russell. periodically returning to New York.'" Click here to see an original cast program for Adonis. free from suggestiveness. and brought it into New York for much longer and more profitable run. co-author Henry E. Appearing in the title role. without definite purpose. individuality. It should fancifully and humorously distort fact. There were plenty of young ladies in tights. yes. and family audiences loved the spouting whale. It should have consistency of plot. . by the way. the material was clean. is 'Marble. a subtle one. the dancing cow.S. It told the story of a gorgeous male statue that comes to life and finds human ways so unpleasant that he chooses to turn back into stone – after spoofing several famous personalities. (1895). wholesome. An extravaganza permits any extravagances or whimsicalities. Although close to incoherent. . and this is equally true in tragedy. It should be pregnant with meaning. and comedian James S. helping Adonis to become the longest running Broadway musical up to that time. It should be pure. This jumble of delights toured the U.• mounted a Boston production that was even more lavish. It is the man or woman with nervous force. The program described the title character as follows: "Adonis: An accomplished young gentleman. another Longfellow spoof that enjoyed a profitable run thanks to a stellar performance by Fay Templeton. Dixey frequently added new gags to delight returning fans. Edward Rice offered his definition of the burlesque musical and explained the importance of casting the right kind of performers -Is there a difference between burlesque and extravaganza? Decidedly. Mesozoic and Palaeozoic period. The 1885 revival ran 251 performances. for more than a decade. yet sharply defines. comedy or burlesque. A burlesque should burlesque something. idealization of treatment in effects of scenery and costumes. In an 1893 interview. and the sharp accenting of every salient point. Maffit's performance as the inscrutable Lone Fisherman. Passive. of undeniably good family. Strong personality and individual peculiarities are invaluable to the burlesque artist. June 1893 Burlesque musicals continued to thrive through the 1890s. It should be performed by comedians who understand the value of light and shade. so it may take a few moments to download. and a bizarre plot that whisked audiences from Africa to Arizona.

A typical pantomime script consisted of detailed stage directions with a few snippets of inserted dialogue. Counting revivals and tours. Fox was forced into retirement. Advanced syphilis eventually clouded Fox's mind. One act musical pantomimes had been a London and Broadway staple since the 1700s. an enchanted garden and Manhattan's costly new City Hall. Pantomime survived in England as a form of Christmas entertainment. this glorified form of children's theater proved to be popular with adults.Pantomimes: Clowning Around Program for an 1873 revival of Humpty Dumpty starring George L. Using the silent language of gesture." . American audiences were looking for something more intimate than burlesque and less childish than pantomime. The most successful American pantomime was Humpty Dumpty (1868 . He died two years later at age 52. etc. With a lavish ballet staged by David Costa (choreographer of The Black Crook). But no one paid much attention to the songs – Fox's buffoonery was the main attraction. sharing the bill with other entertainments.or whenever the audience and the battered cast needed a breather. many of whom were immigrants who did not mind the absence of English dialogue. there was plenty of visual spectacle to offset the knockabout humor. Columbine. Humpty Dumpty set a new long-run record.). he played Humpty more than 1. The plot (if you can call it that) turned young Humpty and his playmates into harlequinade characters romping through such diverse settings as a candy store. Clown.400 times. Reiff Jr. The humor was mostly physical.. a mishmosh of recycled Offenbach and old music hall tunes. was revived several times and inspired a series of sequels." but it was largely assembled from existing material. By the mid1800s. The otherwise mute clowns could burst into song to heighten the mood -. with comic actor George Fox in the title role. Fox. After pelting an audience with props in November 1875. but faded from American stages by 1880. and audiences took the little man to their hearts. A sample scene from Humpty Dumpty Fox's mute passivity set him apart from the clamor surrounding him on Humpty Dumpty's stage.483). He eventually performed the title role more than 1. The time was right for an innovation – the form we now know as "musical comedy.400 times. then gave a mischievous fairy an excuse to transform them into the characters taken from commedia dell’ arte (Harlequin. The score was sometimes credited to "A. these clowns then had to contend with a variety of comic situations and misunderstandings. American pantomimes placed figures from Mother Goose stories in varied settings. relying on a succession of slapstick routines. With colorful sets and athletic antics.

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