The Paper Mill Playhouse is in early developmental discussions about possibly giving a home to the aborning Jackie Mason burlesque musical, Scandals, in fall 2002, a spokesman for the nonprofit New Jersey theatre confirmed.
As previously reported by Playbill On-Line, comedian Jackie Mason is expected to be the headliner of Ralph Allen's new show, Scandals, an entertainment in the tradition of the hit burlesque show, Sugar Babies, which Allen also created. Mason is writing material for the show, which the New York Times reported is eyeing a Broadway in early 2003, with Mason, Jon Stoll and Fred Krohn as co-producers.
Mason quietly tested out material for the project with other comedians at the Paper Mill Playhouse, in Millburn, NJ, on July 19 and 23 for an invite only crowd, many of whom were offered tickets because they came to see Mason's regular stand-up shows at the venue or are booked to see his solo gig there in the spring. It is thought that ultimately Scandals will be a mix of Mason material and classic burlesque sketches culled and refined by Allen. Paper Mill spokesperson Charlie Siedenberg told Playbill On-Line the July trials of Scandals, which included comic sketches but not songs, received "a lot of positive feedback."
Allen told Playbill On-Line in June that he hopes rehearsals would begin in October 2002 for a mini-tour (being booked by William Morris) that would end up on Broadway. The New York Times put the show's pricetag at $3.5 million, with a cast of 15 and an orchestra of nine.
* 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, Allen said in June.
"For a while the rights to Scandals were held by Ben Sprecher," Allen told Playbill On-Line, "and he made an arrangement with [Mason manager] 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.
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 Three Sisters at New Jersey Shakespeare Festival.
Prior to Broadway's Much Ado About Everything in 2000, 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.)