Welcome to McElrath Cabaret–We hope you enjoy our cabaret blog!
Thursday is the day of the week when McElrath Cabaret features some of our favorite cabaret blogs, websites or performers. Today we’re featuring an entertainment fan page/website that does harken back to the days of early cabaret in the United States, and it’s called The Ziegfeld Society (and thank you Richard Skipper for bringing this society to my attention!). The Ziegfeld Society has a fan page on Facebook, and on the page they list a web address for their website, but I was unable to access it although I attempted several times. Here is the web address, and perhaps you will have better luck: http://www.ziegfeldSociety.com. Other contact information, including telephone number and email, are also available on their Facebook fan page.
In their company overview, I learned that:
The Ziegfeld Society is focused on remembering the history of the ‘Golden Age of Broadway’ through the regular remembrance of not only Ziegfeld’s body of work, but also other musical revues of the era set in motion by Ziegfeld’s large-scale spectacles, from 1907 through roughly 1960.
Also at the fan page I learned what the company’s four objectives are, and what they do to meet them:
The Society’s four objectives of history, preservation, performance, and education are achieved by way of meetings held the last Sunday of each month from September through June. Each monthly meeting includes live performances on a variety of topics including material from stage productions, movies, and special presentations of the early part of the 20th century drawn from the ‘World of Florenz Ziegfeld,’ and featuring a variety of performers of all ages from the Broadway stage, the cabaret world, TV, and film. In true Ziegfeldian style, performances are accompanied by no shortage of feathers, glitz, sparkles, classic show business ambiance, and true Broadway-style entertainment.
They offer educational outreach to schools across the country as well as at the university level.
There is a definite link between Florenz Ziegfeld and cabaret. I’ve been reading the fascinating book Steppin’ Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890-1930 by Lewis A. Erenberg, and in it he mentions that while Ziegfeld is predominantly known for his ground-breaking work in New York musical theatre, he also had a cabaret club. As outlined in this book, one of the cabarets owned by Mr. Ziegfeld was the Midnight Frolic, housed at the New Amsterdam Theater on 42nd Street, and in operation from 1915 until Prohibition caused it to close in 1922 (Table 1, 120-121). This was one of the higher-priced cabarets in New York City at the time, charging a $1-2 cover charge plus food and drink; cocktails cost 25 cents (119). The cover charge for the popular midnight show was $3 (207).
Erenberg goes on, in great detail, to describe the beginnings of cabaret, much of which had to do with licenses and fees being required for theatrical events and the serving of alcohol, and the cabarets came into existence in part so that the proprietors could avoid the fees and still serve alcohol and provide entertainment. It was because of this that some cabaret owners, including Ziegfeld, took to the roofs of their buildings as the venue for cabaret entertainment, and such was the case with the Midnight Frolic “atop the New Amsterdam Theater” (207). The Frolic was noted as a trendsetter in “revue entertainment,” which included “superb food, dancing, and elaborate chorus girl productions” and top singers from theatre, while the audience was encouraged to participate in the entertainment: ”Patrons applauded with little wooden hammers, snapped balloons, blew noisemakers, raced with pogo sticks, and talked from table to table by telephone” (207). Vaudeville headliners were also included in the evening’s entertainment (208). The Frolic did two reviews a year (207), which were very popular with the upper crust of New York society.
Here is a great What’s My Line episode from the 1950s that features many Ziegfeld Follies showgirls(!):
I could find no You Tubes of actual footage from these cabaret shows; however, here is a very early talkie film clip that shows an event reminiscent of what the shows were like. This is the Starlite Roof Girls, and it was filmed in 1929:
If you are looking for a way to try to learn more about and get back to this time and style of show-biz glamour found in early cabaret, I would recommend that you check out the monthly Sunday events produced by The Ziegfeld Society!
Is there a cabaret blog, website or performer that you would like to see featured on McElrath Cabaret? Leave us a note in the comments below—we always love to hear from our readers!
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Till next time,
ps–The Cabaret Soiree Link Party is still going strong–you can visit anytime to click on the links and see what others have posted, or you can share your own recent cabaret blog or cabaret website link from now through Thursday. Link is below.
Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:
Tuesdays: Cabaret Tip Tuesday
Wednesdays: Ask A Cabaret Question
Thursdays: Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer
Fridays: Cabaret Through Time