Foreword Reviews

A Revolution in Three Acts

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

The graphic history A Revolution in Three Acts profiles the careers of three daring and influential vaudeville entertainers, from their ambitious beginnings to their tragic ends.

Bert Williams was a singer, actor, and comedian who chafed at the limited opportunities for Black entertainers and worked to present images other than blackface minstrel-style shows. Eva Tanguay developed a following with her independence from traditional women’s roles, and Julian Eltinge was known for his convincing impersonations of women. All three pushed the limits of social acceptance to become icons of the vaudeville stage. The book follows them as they gain fame and fortune, their fates sometimes linked by common associations or even a shared stage. But all three are also undone by difficult transitions to the age of film, and suffer desperate or premature ends.

The book’s composition is masterful, weaving the three stories into a cohesive, captivating tale of a bygone era, at turns holding out examples of the similarities or differences in their lives. The art’s detailed, cross-hatched style, which is aided by extensive visual and textual research, captures Tanguay’s outlandish costumes, Eltinge’s transformational performances, and even scenes from the silent film shorts of Williams, his sly facial expressions changing panel by panel.

The larger impact that Williams, Tanguay, and Eltinge had on American entertainment is evident today: a legacy of challenging assumptions and preconceptions about race, gender, and sexual identity. A Revolution in Three Acts is an incredible work of historical scholarship, entertainment, and artistry.

Reviewed by Peter Dabbene

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Load Next Review