BWW Reviews: HELLO DARLIN'S at Langston Hughes Remembers a Comedy Pioneer
Imagine you go to see a comedienne. She talks about sex and drugs and racial issues and being a lesbian and any number of taboo subjects. Pretty fun night, right? Now imagine she's in her 50's, 60's or even 70's. Even more fun. Now imagine it's the 1970's or even earlier. And there we have the career of one of the funniest and most groundbreaking African American women of the last century, Jackie "Moms" Mabley. And in a tribute to this pioneer, writer Dan Owens and director Jacqueline Moscou and the folks at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute have come up with the world premiere of "Hello Darlin's: Mom's got something to tell you!" And while there may have been a few rough moments in the evening, it amounts to a hilarious and touching look back at a trailblazer of comedy whose career spanned over 50 years and who needs to be remembered.
The show follows the tumultuous life and career of Mabley as she takes on many firsts. She becomes the first female headliner at the Apollo, the oldest person to have a Top 40 hit on the Billboard charts with her cover of "Abraham, Martin and John" and generally opened doors for black and female comediennes with her no holds barred attitude. But beyond simply a collection of some of her best routines, Owens has created an inside look at this fascinating individual that unfortunately too few people remember.
And outrageously portraying this icon is the hysterical Josephine Howell. Howell doesn't just inhabit the persona of Moms Mabley but dives in with both feet and disappears into her. From the signature vocal style down to those side glances that spoke volumes, Howell takes on this character not with fervor but with love and a genuine respect. She not only commands the stage but owns it as she gives a one woman performance that never once felt stale. And backing up Howell for the occasional musical interlude is the handsome Luther (Cedric Thomas) who's on hand to receive every flirt, jibe or checker game.
True there were a few technical aspects that needed to be ironed out and I would have loved a bit more insight into the history of Moms but all told this is a lovely tribute to a woman who doesn't just need to be remembered but recognized. Now sit back, because Mom's got something to tell you.
"Hello Darlin's: Moms got something to tell you!" performs at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute through October 26th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.langstoninstitute.org.
Photo credit: Jason Gu Photography