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David Hajdu and John Carey

Apr 6, 2022

A Revolution in Three Acts

The Radical Vaudeville of Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, and Julian Eltinge

Columbia University Press 2021

Too often, vaudeville is seen from the perspective of its decline: it is the corny, messy art form that predated the book musical, or that gave us Chaplin, Keaton, and the Marx Brothers. Rarely is it seen as the populist avant-garde form it was at its height. David Hajdu and John Carey's graphic history, A Revolution in Three Acts: The Radical Vaudeville of Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, and Julian Eltinge (Columbia University Press, 2021), corrects this misconception, giving us illustrated biographies of three of the genre's most outré and successful stars. Eva Tanguay challenged contemporary gender roles through her outrageous behavior and sexually suggestive songs. Julian Eltinge also subverted gendered expectations of femininity by performing them to the hilt -- but as a man. And Bert Williams, a black man who performed in black face, tried to use his fame to soften the hard edges of Jim Crow bigotry but eventually became exhausted by the racism he encountered within the entertainment industry. These three performers truly were revolutionary, and their stories should be known to any theatre fan or historian.

Andy Boyd is a playwright based in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of the playwriting MFA at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the Arizona School for the Arts.

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Andy Boyd

Andy Boyd is a playwright based in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of the playwriting MFA at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the Arizona School for the Arts.

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