Musical Theatre in America: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on the Musical Theatre in America

By Glenn Loney | Go to book overview

A Tab Show: The Stepchild
of Musical Comedy

CAROLINE SCHAFFNER

Sometimes called tabloid musical companies, the musical tabloid companies were referred to in old-time show-business lingo as "Tab Shows." These companies were a rather special segment of musical theatre in America from the early 1900s to the 1930s. Musical tabloid companies had several distinguishing features. They always carried a line of girls, a chorus line. It could be four or twenty girls, depending on the size of the company. They carried no strippers and permitted no bare legs. All females in short wardrobe wore opera lengths--and they had better be clean.

With some exceptions, most tabloid companies played in the picture- show theatres, in connection with silent movies. They were the vaudeville between showings of the film. A clipping from Billboard ( 23 December 1911) gives a little insight into the beginnings of musical tabloid companies.


TABLOID MUSICAL COMEDIES POPULAR

Chicago, Dec. 15: As stated in these columns a fortnight ago--A new development is taking place in the vaudeville situation in the middle west that promises to become far-reaching in its scope. This is the substitution of "Tabloid" versions of popular musical comedies for a portion of the acts on the local vaudeville boards. Boyle Woolford and Charles M. Becker have several such attractions under way. Harry Armstrong presents "The Girl in the Kimona" at the Plaza, commencing Dec. 17th. And "The Sunny Side of Broadway," "Merry Mary," "A Winning Miss," "Finnegan's Bali," "The Happiest Night of His Life" are all going on tour of the three-a-day houses. The Richard Guthman Scenery Studios of Chicago are taking advantage of this new phase of the business and are prepared to equip such shows intact, from scenery and costumes to manuscripts.

How right the author of that article was. This new development did become far-reaching in its scope. Many companies were springing up all over the country. By 1916 Billboard was carrying much news and many ads relating to musical tabloid companies. One issue ( 1 July 1916) had these

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