All right, stop the music! Stop the music!" shouts the funny old ill-tempered coot, slapping the piano with his battered fedora (or whatever you call the chapeau he sports). Anyway, the hat's seen better days. And so has the coot. Yet, we love him. Just as he loves Mrs. Calabash, wherever she is.
I am talking about Jimmy Durante, the Schnozzola, of course. If you're lucky you can go see him yourself. And you don't need to channel his disembodied spirit. Bob Edes has already done that for you. But here I go, playing right into Durante's hand: sneaking him top billing, which belongs in fact to the Last of the Red Hot Mamas, Sophie Tucker (the magnetic, zoftig comedienne Becky Allen).
The Sophie Tucker Show, currently jamming the house at the Marigny Theatre, is a revue of vintage hits presented by this pair of vintage vaudevillians. The Marigny, by the way, just keeps upgrading. For this outing, director George Patterson has created a nightclub with table seating. Gone is the extra-room-temporarily-pressed-into-service-as-a-playhouse-feeling (there's probably one German word that means precisely that, but, alas, we're stuck with the King's English).
Anyway, on the stage of this posh club, there is a baby grand piano and some pools of colored light in front of a black curtain. Jim Walpole (musical director and accompanist) enters and sits at the piano. Then Sophie comes out. She is a somewhat salty, tongue-in-cheek charmer. She tells us, for instance, that she married a guy named Tuck, but eventually added the "er" for emphasis. Why? For explanation, she quotes some doggerel: "There goes Sophie Tuck. She drives a truck. And she likes to f ... f ... fool around!"
In the old days, when she was trying to establish herself, she'd do whatever the situation called for. She even toured in minstrel shows in black face. In 1909, she got cast in the second Ziegfeld Follies, where she picked up a maid who she took with her to Chicago. Then the maid brought her a song written by her boyfriend. The song was "Some of These Days You're Gonna Miss Me, Honey." That boyfriend, Sheldon Brooks, turned out to be a great popular songwriter. So, life tumbles unpredictably along in show business.
Lest you get the wrong idea, The Sophie Tucker Show is not really a bio-drama type affair. We are offered a smattering of background, but mostly we get to know these vaudevillians by the way they entertain us. The songs include "Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee," "I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Gone?" and "As Time Goes By."
Sophie steps briefly into her Russian-Jewish heritage for "My Yiddishe Momma," but generally stays with her brash, sardonic persona, as in "I've Got the Blues (But I'm Just Too Mean to Cry)."
Durante, of course, is one of those inexplicable icons -- like the Marx Brothers or Ed Wynn, the Perfect Fool. And, what do you know? Not only did Durante make a hit out of "Inka Dinka Doo," he wrote the damn thing! In fact, he wrote three of the other songs he sings, as well. What a guy!
Patterson is also credited with conceiving the show, which I imagine includes writing the text. A tip of the hat goes to Cecile Casey Covert for the glamorous threads and to Don McDonald for the excellent lighting and sound.
The Sophie Tucker Show, With Special Guest Jimmy Durante is great fun. I don't care how hard the Schnoz smacks the piano with his hat: don't stop the music!
Speaking of "the music." Director Brandt Blocker recently teamed up with choreographer Alton Geno to create another thoroughly engaging, nostalgia-tinged musical revue. The All Night Strut had the joint jumping at Southern Rep. And it's easy to see why seats were hard to come by.
Christopher Bentivegna, Ashley Lemmler, Tywon Morgan and Gabrielle Porter brought the boogie woogie vibe to vibrant life with the help of a trio of musicians. Ah those simpler, better days of yore -- that included The Great Depression, World War II and segregation! Nonetheless, there's something in those Tin Pan Alley songs that lifts the spirit. Not to mention, the delicious big band syncopated swing by Duke Ellington and cohorts.
"Chattanooga Choo Choo," "Minnie The Moocher," "Fascinating Rhythm" give a sense of the mood of the evening. Not to mention: "Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar." Ultimately, I guess the Duke nailed it with his classic: "It Don't Mean a Thing if it ain't got that Swing". The strutters swung. And swung. And swung!
- Sophie Tucker (Becky Allen) and Jimmy Durante (Bob Edes) were a couple of the most popular performers of the early 20th century.