Those who remember vaudeville and others who don’t can have a great time at the new “Vaudeville Nation” exhibition (though April 1, 2006) at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. The library’s vast collection of vaudeville memorabilia has been tapped by creative and knowledgeable curator Barbara Stratyner, who led critics and journalists on a detailed tour of the show on its opening day.
It is not only possible to peruse the myriad poster, clipping, advertisements and critiques of the kinds of shows that reigned as vaudeville from the 1880s into the 1930s. One can listen to famous acts of the time with an interactive setup enabling you to choose what to hear. There is also a projection section where one can watch some of the famous acts captured on film.
On the audio, for example, I got a kick out of listening to Eddie Cantor, hearing the dialogue of comedians Weber and Fields and tuning in to an act by the Avon Comedy Four, of which the legendary Smith and Dale were a part, this one titled “The Hungarian Restaurant,” similar in style to the famous Smith and Dale “Dr. Kronkheit” act.
Vaudeville was an immensely popular form of entertainment, and even with the arrival of television, which, along with movies and radio, helped killed it, the art form survived in the form of the Ed Sullivan TV show, which offered its variety of acts in the way they had been presented on the vaudeville stages.
The exhibit also has some stunning photographs of the fancy theaters that once offered vaudeville, reproductions of newspaper columns combining criticism and drawings, examples of the kinds of jokes told on stage and a host of other artifacts that give a flavor of the period and the art form.
At the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. Phone: 212-870-1630.