Archive for the Singing Comediennes Category

Stars of Vaudeville #1040: Mayer and Evans

Posted in Broadway, Dixieland & Early Jazz, Hollywood (History), Music, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2017 by travsd

April 24 is the birthday of big band and jazz piano player Ray Mayer (Ray Maher, 1901-1949). Originally from Lexington, Nebraska, he started out in circuses and in some bands organized by trombonist and songwriter Larry Conley. In 1928, he teamed up with singer Edith Evans, whom he seems to have met while recording sides for Brunwsick Records. They were both high profile enough that they were able to play the Palace that year, and be featured in the Vitaphone shorts When East Meets West and  The Cowboy and the Girl, which is chiefly what they are known for today. The act is sort of like Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields, but if Fields were much more like Will Rogers — a gun-chewing, wisecracking country bloke in chaps. And the gag is that Evans is more urban and sophisticated. It’s a good act, but 1928 was a terrible time to start a vaudeville act. Vaudeville was dead by 1932. The following year, the pair got married and retired the act.

Evans appears to have left the business at this point, but Mayer worked steadily. He appeared in scores of films until his death, often B movie westerns, mostly bit parts. And he’s in half a dozen Broadway shows from 1940 through 1946, including the original production of Louisiana Purchase and Eddie Cantor’s Banjo Eyes. Mayer died in 1949 while on traveling to a performance. More about the pair can be learned at JazzAge20s.com

To find out more about vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on early  film please see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

Mink Stole: It’s Merry Christmas, Dammit

Posted in Christmas, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Women with tags , , on December 11, 2016 by travsd

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Three Christmas Cheers for Dreamland Diva Mink Stole!

We had the great good fortune to see her Holiday Cabaret It’s Merry Christmas, Dammit at the Cutting Room last night and want to sing its praises.

The actual set was almost identical to the one we caught two years ago (read about that one here). With these noticeable differences:

  • Last time was at the Laurie Beechman. This version was at the much larger, swankier Cutting Room, giving the whole thing an honest to God concert feel, with an elevated stage, a better sound system, and a much larger audience — and even so, they packed ’em in last night. To paraphrase W.C. Fields, the audience had to clap up and down instead of sideways.
  • What an interesting, sobering experiment, to watch the same performer do the same show on either side of the catastrophic 2016 election. There is no escape from the dreaded Orange Taint: you go places, you run into friends, and you metaphorically or literally HOLD each other as tight as you can and share your fears and worries and anger and little accidental words of encouragement which you both quickly shoot down because the scale of the horribleness is too vast to be adequately confronted no matter WHAT happens. So….a lot of her show was like that. The set list and some of the patter was the same, but Mink kvetched and beat her chest and worried aloud about the state of the world and we joined her, and nothing has ever felt so WEIMAR. It’s like we were huddled in one of those Berlin night spots with the clock running out and goons roaming the streets just waiting for their cue to kick our heads in. It gave momentousness to her performance. Not that she was strident or self-importantly “political”. She was just honest and down-to-earth, and that’s one of her greatest assets as a performer. You feel like you know her, like she’s talking to you. In one way it’s consoling. In another way….what’s more terrifying than knowing that the hundreds of people in the room are also terrified?
  • Speaking of Weimar, I think I noticed a lot more vibrato in her performance, a bit of the old Lotte Lenya, and I loved it
  • There was a different bass player this time, and this one needs to CALM. DOWN. It’s too much to claim he was upstaging the singer, but…he came close. I was aware of the bass playing the entire time; it sounded like John Entwhistle or something. It didn’t bug me precisely. He seems a capable musician, but, yeah the dude was pulling focus.
  • Mink, please tell John to finally make FRUITCAKE, and to give you a nice, big part because you’re awesome. Oh, but I bet you’ve already done that. In just those words!
  • Read Scott Stiffler’s terrific profile/interview with Mink Stole in Gay City News, in which she talks about the Christmas show and much else, here: http://gaycitynews.nyc/mink-stole-christmas/

Stars of Vaudeville #1012: Norma Terris

Posted in Broadway, Impressionists, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2016 by travsd

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NORMA TERRIS: THE ORIGINAL MAGNOLIA

Today is the birthday of Norma Terris (Norma Allison, 1904-1989).

Originally from Kansas, Terris started out in vaudeville performing singing celebrity impressions, an act that sounds not unlike that of Elsie Janis. I see it claimed in various places that she was featured in the Ziegfeld Follies, however my own Follies resources (bills for each year) and IBDB don’t reflect that. She may have been a replacement, or toured with the show. However, she was definitely featured doing her impersonation specialty in two Shubert revues A Night in Paris (1926) and A Night in Spain (1927). This lead to her best known theatrical credit: she was the original Magnolia and Kim in the first productions of Show Boat (1927-1929 and 1932). She was tried in two Hollywood features, Married in Hollywood (1929) and Cameo Kirby (1930), but apparently she did not click in pictures; when films were made of Show Boat in 1929 and 1936, she was passed over.

She starred in a couple more short-lived Broadway shows (her last was in 1938), then sang for ten seasons with the Municipal Opera Company in St. Louis. After this she retired to Connecticut with her husband. Ironically, it is her activity during this “retirement” for which she may be best known today, for she became heavily involved, both as a singer and a benefactor, with the Goodspeed Opera Company, which named one of its theatre buildings in her honor.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Stars of Vaudeville #1008: Marie Loftus

Posted in British Music Hall, Irish, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Variety Theatre, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2016 by travsd

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 Marie Loftus (1857-1940) was known as the “Sarah Bernhardt of the Music Halls” . Born in Glasgow to Irish parents, she grew up near the Scotia Music Hall, which is where she began dancing as a young girl. As a singing single she first appeared at Brown’s Royal Music Hall by age 17. Within three years she had made it to London. Loftus possessed a stout, buxom figure which was of a sort very much in vogue with Victorian audiences at the time. Like many music hall singers, her repertoire contained suggestive material that some frowned upon. But she remained popular in her native Glasgow, even as she became a national star on the London stages, both in music hall and as a Principal Boy in Pantomime. Her fame became international when she began to tour American vaudeville and the halls of South Africa. By the 1890s she was earning 100 pounds a week. Her daughter Cissie Loftus (1876-1943) would prove just as famous.

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Stars of Vaudeville #1000: Janet Reade

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2016 by travsd

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The Wife of Two Pat Rooneys. 

Today is the birthday of Janet Reade (Helen Dorothy Rulton, 1910-1943). Beginning as a chorus girl for Flo Ziegfeld, her lucky break was a featured part in Ballyhoo of 1930. This led to a string of Vitaphone musical comedy shorts and appearances in big time vaudeville houses like the Palace through the mid 30s. In 1935 she married vaudeville dancer Pat Rooney Jr. She raised more than a few eyebrows when she divorced him in 1942 to marry his father Pat Rooney, Sr. She died the following year of a liver ailment.

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Stars of Vaudeville #954: Miss Juliet

Posted in Broadway, Impressionists, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Miss Juliet (Juliet Delf, 1889-1962). She appears to have been a musical impressionist in the mold of Elsie Janis and to have begun her career in the 1910s. She was a popular big-time act who played the Keith and Orpheum Circuits. She played the Palace the first year of its existence (1913) and played there again as late at 1928 — this is a meat-and-potatoes vaudevillian. She was also in the Cohan Revue of 1916. She appears in a Vitaphone short called Not for Me from 1928 and another called Rushin’ Art made in 1936

She was the older sister sister of Harry Delf, himself a vaudeville and Broadway performer who went on to be a prolific writer of Broadway musicals and revues and a dean of the Friars Club.

Harry’s grandson maintains a marvelous blog devoted to his illustrious relatives, including some younger ones who were also in show business. The photo above came from his blog. To peruse it go here. 

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Last Night’s Lower East Side Junket

Posted in Burlesk, Contemporary Variety, German, Indie Theatre, PLUGS, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Women with tags , , , , , , on September 29, 2015 by travsd

Despite yesterday’s oppressively nasty weather, the Mad Marchioness and I finally shook off our summertime torpor last night and poked our heads out into the world. It’s been months since we’ve done such a thing, and as often happens after such a hiatus, we stacked a bunch of activities into a single evening, helped along by convenient geography.

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First we went to the Slipper Room for a sneak peek at Jonny Porkpie’s new silent movie themed burlesque revue, The Stripteaser, featuring himself, Jo “Boobs” Weldon, Fancy Feast, Bastard Keith, Fem Appeal, Patrick Davis, and Polly Wood. It’s duly hilarious and we will be going back to see it again with all the bells and whistles tomorrow night. You should too! Info and tickets are here. 

Next we ate large piles of food at Phebe’s (without an “o”, never put an “o”), where we ran into performer Ione Lloyd, on her way to something at New York Theatre Workshop, I think she said.

Whereas, we were on our way to LaMama, for the launch event for their new downstairs theatre space. If I am counting correctly this is their fourth playing space, essentially a blackbox (in this case a brick box), brand spanking new and shiny on their basement level. Congrats to them! For an institution to still be vibrant and growing at this age! We saw artistic director Mia Yoo, producing director Beverly Petty, Cathy Shaw from the box office, and:

Nicky Paraiso of the Club at La Mama, and Linda Chapman, Associate Artistic Director at NYTW

Nicky Paraiso of the Club at La Mama, and Linda Chapman, Associate Artistic Director at NYTW

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Kids’ Art!

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Then finally, the climax of the evening, Mad Jenny and the Society Band’s debut at Pangea.   I had the terrifying realization last night that I have known, admired and worked with this performer for almost NINE years. Where that time went, I have no idea, but I felt like I saw it all in her performance last night, ideas she has been talking about and planning and trying out here and there over a long period — with this show as the glorious culmination.

With her beautiful singing voice, her clown training, her command of German, and her sharp sophisticated mind, this is a show only SHE could have put together (with her collaborators of course, but who but she could star in this act?).  It’s almost all Berlin cabaret material, by the likes of Brecht, Weill, Eisler and many others. Because her command is so encyclopedic and curated with such vision and focus the repertoire is much more esoteric than the usual “Weimar’s greatest hits” approach most performers tend to take when they attempt this kind of material. The one tune I knew was the “Barbara Song” from Threepenny, although in a different translation from the one I know best (the from the 1954 Broadway production.) Oh yes and she threw in a Eurythmics song which I vaguely recognized. I won’t tell you what she does with props in the show, because that would spoil lots of wonderful surprises, but among the many treats on the song list is a gay-pride anthem from 1921 called “The Lavender Song”, a 1928 abortion song, and a great feminist number from 1931 called “Chuck All the Men”. It’s not all political, but these stuck out — they’re almost a century old….and wow, they still need to be sung, a fact which is stunning, and damning.  But, really, the show was all highlights. When it was over, no one wanted to stop clapping or even let her go. She got two encores, and really the audience still wanted more after that. She’s already got more shows booked, but something tells me a proper long run will be in order once word gets around. People will want to see this and see this again. I would gladly go again already! To get more info on Mad Jenny and her upcoming shows go here. 

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