Ruth Page in the Music Box Revue / photographs by G. Maillard Kesslère., Digital ID page_0180v, New York Public LibraryThe Great American Revue is coming to the end of its run at the Vincent Astor Gallery, LPA. Don't worry — all of the artifacts will be returned to the Billy Rose Theatre Division, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, or Music Division, and the blog channel will continue. But, since the show itself is closing, I am dedicating this week's blogs to finales.
Think about curtain calls — what usually happens? Performers come onstage in reverse order of importance (to great applause, of course). The audience claps wildly, they bow and exit. In contemporary drama and post-modern opera, sometimes, the cast applauds the audience as well. I think that it started with Brecht; my earliest memory of applauding casts was Marat-Sade.
In revues, curtain calls were much more elaborate. Historians have known that they often involved dialogue and new verses, but very few are extant. But you never know what you will find at the Library for the Performing Arts...
Dancer/choreographer Ruth Page was an enormously important figure in American dance — as founder of the Page-Stone ballet and as choreographer for the Chicago Lyric Opera and Opera Ballet. In the early 1920s, she was a concert dancer with bills to pay. Like so many future giants of American dance, she spent seasons as a specialty dancer in a revue. Partnered by Hubert Stowitts, also a major figure in American ballet and concert dance in development, she performed as a nightingale in the Music Box Revue of 1924's national tour. The Music Box Revues were created by Irving Berlin for his new Music Box Theater and Irving Berlin left nothing theatrical or musical to chance, so he scripted the curtain calls in his signature flawless rhymes.
In the Ruth Page Collection, 1928-1976 (*MZGMD 16), we found a copy of the Act II finale curtain calls for that tour, set to his "Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil." They were sung by two performers — Charlotte Greenwood and Grace LaRue — in mock rivalry.
"...Before the final curtain rings down and we are through
We'll introduce to you, The cast of this revue...
You must admit we travel in nice company
We're very proud and why shouldn't we be?...
"There's Miss Rich who sang about the bird that left its lacquer cage"
"And clever Mr. Stowitts – also wonderful Miss Page."
After introducing the full cast, the male and female choruses, and creating a patriotic chorus about the good immigrant names of the stage hands, Berlin added one last verse:
"Now – we will let you go
Now – you may leave the show
If you don't know just where to go –
You can pack up your sins and go to the Devil in Hades..."
The audience walked out humming.