Vaudeville: An American Masters Special



People Magazine -- "From its first image (Gus Visser gamely singing a duet with a duck) to its last (the Nicholas Brothers dance team joyously kicking up their heels), this documentary is pure delight. Narrated by Ben Vereen and evocatively written by Greg Palmer, VAUDEVILLE takes us back to that halcyon period between the 1880s and 1930s when there were live variety shows in theaters across America. And we do mean variety shows: singers and dancers and comedians, sure, but also prestidigitators, plate spinners, innumerable ukulele players and animal acts of all species. George Burns was a vaudevillian; so was Hadji Ali, the great regurgitator. With its affordable tickets, amateur nights and common man appeal, vaudeville was the prime entertainment medium for our nation of immigrants until radio and the movies came along to divert the masses. The documentary doesn't ignore the downside of that old-time show business, particularly racial restrictions and stereotyping. But as Studs Terkel proves with his rapturous recollection of the performers at Chicago's old Palace Theatre ('He was singing to me… He was making cracks to me…') even realists wax nostalgic when they hear the magic word "vaudeville." Grade: A