In recent weeks, New York producers had a look-see at Scandals, the latest musical burlesque by Sugar Babies creator Ralph Allen, but there's no word yet if or when the show will have a larger life beyond its world premiere at TheatreVirginia.
Allen is hoping lightning strikes twice with the new burlesque-style revue, which had its first preview at the Richmond, VA, nonprofit Nov. 17. Official opening was Nov. 26. Performances end Dec. 18. Tickets are still available.
Film, stage and TV actor Dick Van Patten is the headliner in the collection of sketches and songs from the heyday of the American burlesque stage. New tunes by Hal Hackady & Brad Ross, Allen, David Campbell & Michael Valenti, Terry Waldo and Peter Howard are also heard, along with pop traditional or patriotic numbers such as "Shine On, Harvest Moon," "Anchors Aweigh" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
Songs, dance, comedy and show girls are all part of the mix, considered by TheatreVirginia artistic director George Black to be the most lavish show in the history of the nonprofit company. The show is being nurtured at the Richmond, VA, resident company, but there is interest by New York commercial producers for the possibility of a national tour or perhaps a New York booking. The show was co-created and developed by Allen, an expert on American vaudeville and a Tony Award nominee for the book of Sugar Babies, and director choreographer Danny Daniels, a Tony winner for The Tap Dance Kid.
Daniels (of Los Angeles) and Allen (of New York) have been working on the project for four 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. "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.
The Nov. 17-25 preview period in Virginia has been a time of editing and fixing, just like any other tryout. The show features two pianos and drums and will be filled out by an orchestra for future incarnations.
Robert Fitch, remembered as Rooster in the original Broadway production of Annie, also stars, along with Jerold Goldstein, Mylinda Hull, Darrin Baker and Richard Ruiz. The company also includes Kimberly Breault, Jennifer Clippinger, Maria Davidson, Bill Davis, Melissa Giattino, Nadine Isenegger, Heather Morris and Kristi Rau.
Designers are Harry Feiner (set and lighting) and George Sarofeen (costume).
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 Kenneth Jones