Visitors to the exhibition and blog channel The Great American Revue have peppered me with questions that can be summarized as: "where do you find that stuff?" Substitute artifacts for "stuff" and it becomes a request for a research guide.
The New York Public Library has been collecting performing arts content since the 1880s and online cataloging since the 1980s. Most of the material in the Revues exhibition was acquired during those gap years and are not represented in nypl.org searches. Many of the best sources — clipping files, program files and scrapbooks — can be found only through the card files, currently located on the 2nd floor. So the next few blogs will discuss how best to find information and materials at LPA relating to revues and other large performing arts productions.
Part 1: Getting Started
The best and easiest way to find anything at the Performing Arts Library is by the name of production or performer. You can use the open stack reference books (currently on the 2nd and/or 3rd floors) to determine which shows fit your study's criteria — all revues, all shows in a season, all shows at roof theaters, whatever. The most comprehensive are Gerald Bordman's The American Musical Theatre (1978), American Musical Comedy (1982) or American Musical Revue (1985), if you prefer prose; or Richard C. Norton's Chronology of the American Musical Theater (2002) for listings only.
Brooks McNamara, pioneering popular entertainments historian at NYU and my dissertation advisor, always recommended that the next step was to identify every person in or involved with each of the production. You can do that on IBDB, but I prefer compiling those lists by working directly from programs. That way, you can see their billing, specialties and name variants. Search every name! The important thing to remember is that you can never tell which performer/songwriter/designer/staff member will be your key to provide answers, inspiration or surprises. They, their families or their fans may have kept files or scrapbooks with what turn out to be priceless or, at least, informative, treasures. So, where did I find those unknown Irving Berlin lyrics?