The Red ’n’ Black Revue
It began in March 1948 as a senior class project. Called by the local paper “the most ambitious attempt in the theatrical line ever made by the University students,” the Red ’n’ Black Revue has also proven to be the longest running show in New Brunswick.
For every year but two of the past 63 years, the much acclaimed and eagerly awaited variety show has entertained large audiences that include students, faculty and staff, parents and members of the community.
The 1948 original was such a standing-room-only success, it was extended for a third night. Some called it the best show east of Montreal. (Of course, it was then the only show east of Montreal.) It featured a number of acts that have become Red ’n’ Black traditions, such as the kickline, “an octette of shapely and well-trained girl dancers,” according to the local reviewer. Their choreographer and coach, Sheila Roberts (BA ’43), became the show’s longest serving volunteer, continuing to organize the dancers into the 1990s. She also persuaded UNB president Colin B. Mackay to participate in several shows with her, billed as “Sheila Roberts and Friends.”
Ed McGinley (BA ’49, BCL ’51) set the bar for all emcees who followed him, playing a prominent role in introducing acts, telling jokes and keeping the crowds engaged during set changes. The program, as it has every year since, included the talents of any student brave enough to take the stage: actors, singers, musicians, comedians, satirists and even, occasionally, acrobats. The 1954 playbill noted, “Old stars leave but new blood is always there to take over; and the Red ‘n’ Black remains—an annual effort of the students Up the Hill for the entertainment of the wonderful people of Fredericton.”
In 1965, having outgrown the auditorium at Teachers’ College, the production moved to The Playhouse, a well-appointed theatre in downtown Fredericton. About this time the Red ’n’ Black Revue began attracting participants with professional show business potential, most notably Anne Murray (BPE ’66) who claims it’s where she found out she was a more talented singer than most people.
In addition to the annual production, there have been several special Red ’n’ Black Revues. In 1955, a command performance in front of Lord Beaverbrook, UNB’s chancellor, was staged at Memorial Hall. In 1962, the centenary of the Associated Alumni reached its grand finale at the Lady Beaverbrook Rink with a revival that featured highlights of the show since its inception. A 50th reunion performance at The Playhouse in 1996 boasted a cast that spanned five decades, as well as an appearance by UNB’s newly appointed president, Elizabeth Parr-Johnston. Then, at UNB’s millennial alumni reunion in 2000, another revival packed the Aitken University Centre with a sold-out crowd of more than 2,400 enthusiastic fans.
The most recent Red ’n’ Black took place in January 2011. For the past few years, the line-up has been decidedly more multicultural in flavour as international students join in the tradition, a tradition that The Brunswickan prophetically proclaimed in 1948 “deserves to be carried on from class to class.”