The Music of the Music Box Revues

Larry Bomback


Larry Bomback

Revues, a type of musical theater imported from France, were big business on Broadway during the first decades of the twentieth century. Florenz Ziegfeld popularized the exciting format in 1907, when he staged his first of what would be many annual Follies. Music contained in these Follies was essentially an amalgam of recent songs written by popular composers.

Irving Berlin, in fact, had been writing individual songs for Ziegfeld as early as 1916, and composed much of the music for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1920. Thus, by the time Berlin started penning his first Music Box Revue in 1921, he certainly felt comfortable working in the genre. Nevertheless, Berlin and co-owner Sam Harris made a concerted effort to differentiate their new revue from contemporaneous endeavors conducted by Ziegfeld, The Schubert Brothers, George White, and a host of other producers. By taking advantage of the intimate dimensions of the Music Box Theatre, deemphasizing the focus on nudity, and most importantly, creating shows centered around music, Berlin and Harris succeeded in raising the caliber of the revue genre to a higher artistic level.


© Musicological Explorations, School of Music, University of Victoria

ISSN 1711-9235