If you were not a headliner, one of the keys to success on the vaudeville and variety stage was finding a combination of talent and a good gimmick. Such was the case with Saul Grumman and his Stair-A-Tone device: a staircase in which each “step” played a different musical note.
The routine of the three dancers in Musical Stairs – Helene Tanza is in the middle – is no different than one might see in almost any night club or stage performance. They are fine tap dancers, but what they do is certainly not unique. What sells the act is the Stair-A-Tone, used in the second number in the Soundie. The first part of the routine is danced to a popular hit of the day, “Jersey Bounce,” then it is onto the Stair-A-Tone for the finale, a theme from Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”
Born Solly Grossman, Saul Grauman (no relation to Hollywood empresario Sid Grauman) was working under his stage name by the mid–1930s. As one might expect, Grauman’s and his Stair-A-Tone was very popular on the nightclub and theater stage. In the late 1930s and 1940s the group was constantly on tour. They played large venues along the East Coast, along with booking in smaller clubs that were often referred to as “niteries.”. As Variety noted in a late 1940s review, “We’ve seen this before but the novelty doesn’t wear off. Worth the return visit.”