Will Ralph Allen's Burlesque Musical, Scandals, Find a Home?

News   Will Ralph Allen's Burlesque Musical, Scandals, Find a Home? Ralph Allen's Scandals, a burlesque-flavored musical revue that played Richmond, VA, in 1999, is not to be confused with the Broadway-bound new musical, Laughing Room Only, which comedian Jackie Mason is developing.

Allen and Mason worked together on development of the show called Scandals in recent years but had a parting of the ways, Allen told Playbill On-Line. Allen famously turned old into gold when he created the surprise Broadway hit, Sugar Babies. His Scandals was to be a kind of sequel to that show, he said.

Allen said he is "considering options" for a production of Scandals, which repackages classic burlesque sketches with new musical comedy songs by composer Brad Ross and lyricist Hal Hackady. Among the old sketches there are also wholly original pieces by Allen in the style of classic burlesque, he said.

He said a New York City reading or another regional tryout would be a logical next step, and indicated the show would include a cast of about 15. He said producers are looking at the property.

Allen said Scandals "has no connection whatsoever" with the aborning new musical, Laughing Room Only, written and created by Jackie Mason, which will have its world premiere Sept. 19-Oct. 5, at the Helen Hayes Theatre in Nyack, NY. That run is billed as a prior-to-Broadway engagement. The target is Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre in October. It's produced in association with Jyll Rosenfeld and Jon Stoll and is directed by Robert Johanson, former artistic director of Paper Mill: The State Theatre of New Jersey.

Paper Mill had been in early developmental discussions about possibly giving a fall 2002 home to Scandals starring Jackie Mason. Mason even tried out some new material at Paper Mill in summer 2001. The early idea for the show was that Mason would write some of the Scandals material, to be mixed in with classic burlesque bits. Mason has parted with both Paper Mill and Allen, and Scandals and Laughing Room Only appear to now be two distinct projects.

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Allen previously characterized his Scandals this way to Playbill On-Line: "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 (Goodtime Charley, Minnie's Biys), Brad Ross (Little By Little), 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) and director choreographer Danny Daniels, a Tony winner for The Tap Dance Kid, were attached to Scandals.

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."

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 in 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.)