A year ago, comedian Jackie Mason was wrapping up his latest stint on Broadway, Much Ado About Everything. At that time, the news was that he'd take the show on tour and that his next Broadway gig would be in an old-fashioned, new-fangled burlesque show, penned by Ralph Allen, who scripted the Mickey Rooney-Ann Miller hit, Sugar Babies.
Reached June 20, Allen told Playbill On-Line that negotiations are very much under way to have Mason involved in the project, titled Scandals, and that the idea is to start rehearsals in October 2002, take the show on a mini-tour (being booked by William Morris) at the end of 2002, and bring it to Broadway sometime thereafter. Asked about those plans, producer Jyll Rosenfeld, who has served as Mason's personal manager since 1976, told Playbill On-Line, "There's no information. When we have something to tell you, we'll call you."
Said Allen of the show, "It's like the sketches in Sugar Babies, which were based on standard burlesque sketches. It recalls the days when the comic was king, before burlesque strip-tease or erotic performances connected with it. It's centered mostly on comedy."
Scandals enjoyed a successful run Nov. 17-Dec. 18, 1999 at TheatreVirginia in Richmond. TV star Dick Van Patten headlined that version, which featured new tunes by Allen, Hal Hackady, Brad Ross ("Kicks," "Say Cheese"), David Campbell and Michael Valenti, Terry Waldo and Peter Howard, along with pop traditional or patriotic numbers such as "Shine On, Harvest Moon," "Anchors Aweigh" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Musical and dance arranger Howard (the Chicago revival) is still connected to the project, as is director-choreographer Danny Daniels, a Tony winner for The Tap Dance Kid.
"For awhile the rights to Scandals were held by Ben Sprecher," Allen told Playbill On-Line, "and he made an arrangement with Jyll Rosenfeld. Jackie [Mason] had been doing all these one-man shows, and he wanted to vary what he does. We're thrilled to have Jackie Mason on the project; I think he'd be a draw." Author Allen is a retired professor of drama at Queens College and has translated such comic playwrights as Carlo Goldoni and Moliere. He also penned the farce Horse of a Different Color, staged at the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival. Most tellingly, he's lectured at various universities on "The Rhythm, Style and Meaning of Jokes."
Composer Ross told PBOL June 21 two of his songs were featured "prominently" in the Virginia mounting of Scandals, and though he hadn't yet heard about any upcoming plans for the show, he did mention that last he'd heard, "Jackie Mason had optioned it, and there were plans to do it next year." Ross composed the Off-Broadway musical Little By Little and he's on the cusp of getting a Kennedy Center commission to adapt Ogden Nash stories into a music-theatre piece for May 2002. He's also set to do a concert in August at midtown Manhattan's Grace Plaza, with such singer friends as Eric Michael Gillette, Christine Pedi, Alton Fitzgerald White and Brooke Sunny Moriber chipping in.
Harry Feiner, who designed the Richmond staging, told PBOL he hasn't been in contact with the production staff for more than half a year, but prior to that he had "acted as an intermediary for a little bit to give [Jackie] Mason's people information on the physical production." Feiner's recent projects have included Blithe Spirit at OB's Pearl Theatre and an upcoming Three Sisters at New Jersey Shakespeare Festival.
Back in July 2000 when Much Ado About Everything was ending its Broadway run, Publicist Larry Weinberg told Playbill On-Line, "Jackie and his manager, Jyll Rosenfeld, will produce... I wouldn't expect Siegfried and Roy to be among the novelty acts," he noted (since Mason had been comically cruel to them in Much Ado). At the time, Herbert Ross (no relation to Brad), director of filmdom's "The Turning Point," was skedded to direct, but spokespersons at Ross' business management firm told PBOL (June 20) he had no current theatrical projects.
Prior to Much Ado, comedian Mason already had four long runs on Broadway: The World According to Me, Jackie Mason Brand New, Politically Incorrect and Love Thy Neighbor.
Daniels and Allen have been working on the Scandals project (at one point tentatively titled "The Mother of All Burlesque") for five years, although it occurred to Allen during the seven-year New York and touring life of Sugar Babies that the wealth of material from the era of burlesque could support a second show.
"It did occur to me that people liked to be amused in this way," Allen said (July 2000). "The Scandals material is not from Sugar Babies: I tried to avoid that. It's new-old material — some of it is written from scratch."
He defines "burlesque" as songs and scenes that are linked by the appearance of the same comedians throughout the show, and "vaudeville" as a variety of performers on a bill. Burlesque, he said, is working class theatre, proletariat music hall.
Allen grew up in Philadelphia and met burlesque comedians such as Billy Hagen, who would play the Trocadero there. "I met a lot of the comedians then," he said. "In my legitimate life, I taught theatre history and ran regional theatres and worked at the Kennedy Center. My main interest was classical drama, but I always loved low comedy."
By the 1940s, burlesque was synonymous with seedy halls, lewd jokes and, eventually, "pornographic" routines, Allen said.
Sandals, despite the title, has an innocence about it. "The dancing is a little sexier than Sugar Babies, but the sketches are cleaner," Allen said, adding that some of the classic sketches have been adapted and some required "punching up." Although they are products of their time, they still work brilliantly, he said.
(Allen points to a successful bit in the evening that reveals the roots of the famous "Who's on First" routine: It's called "Who Dyed," from 1890, about man who runs a cleaning and dying shop.)
Musical director is Terry Waldo and the dance and music arranger is Peter Howard, who wrote the dance arrangements for the Broadway revival of Chicago.
For ticket information, call toll-free, (877) 353-6161.
— By David Lefkowitz
and Kenneth Jones