Voices of the Town - A Vaudeville Salute Plays Sept. 7

"Voices of the Town -- A Vaudeville Salute!" will invade the South Street Seaport.  The special appearance has been organized by Montauk Theatre Productions/Shooting Star Theatre and the show's creators NY Artists Unlimited.  The show, which is geared for all ages, will be at Melville Gallery, 213 Water Street just above Fulton on September 7 at 7 p.m.        

"Voices of the Town" covers the entire history of vaudeville in America 1875-1935 and shows the breakthroughs made for African-Americans, women and immigrants.  "It has 25 period songs, dance, comedy routines, and brings to life numerous stars of Yesteryear.  The forerunner of the TV variety show and Broadway musicals, it opened the way for countless luminaries.  The opening and closing number "There's No Business Like Show Business" is also a testament to the tenacity of Americans, especially New Yorkers after 9/11, concluding with:  "Let's go on with the show."  Writer-director Melba LaRose leads a cast including:  Michelle Robinson, Nate Steinwachs, Lucia Manzella, Jules Hartley, and Joyce Pena.  Anita Brown from Shooting Star Theatre makes a special guest appearance as Molly Picon, singing in both Yiddish and English.  Choreography by Francis J. Roach," state press notes. 

"Voices" has been touring major Northeastern universities, as well as local libraries, senior centers, and nursing homes.  It was chosen by the Alliance for the Arts to be featured on Arts Day in Albany at the Legislative Office Building.  In the presentations, the witty powerhouse Sophie Tucker is be brought to life by Melba LaRose, belting out "Some of These Days."   The show takes the audience back to the days when vaudeville houses were the entertainment mecca (there are even mentions of local theatres).  The full production took four months of exhaustive research.  It reveals the beginnings of vaudeville in the rural valleys of France in the 1700s, where it was called "Voix de Ville," Voices of the Town.  Although initially the majority of viewers were seniors and elderly, recent audiences have included children down to the age of 3, who truly enjoy the show.

"There are portrayals of forgotten but important African-Americans:  Bert Williams, the highest paid star in the Ziegfeld Follies, and Florence Mills, great star of the Harlem Renaissance and Broadway (both played by Carmela Davis).  Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle wrote the first Broadway musical to contain a love duet with black performers that was accepted by white viewers.  Black audiences were also allowed to sit in boxes reserved for whites only.  Information is uncovered about the T.O.B.A. Circuit (black performers only) and use of blackface.  Powerful female figures are portrayed:  Marie Dressler, Eva Tanguay, Mae West, Sophie Tucker, who were not only great businesswomen and crusaders for women's rights, but also changed the way the world viewed women.  There are women playing male roles, as well as a portrayal of Kitty Doner, vaudeville's famous male impersonator.  At a time when women had little options except work in sweatshops, women headliners in vaudeville could make well over $1,000 a week.  Immigrants who spoke little or no English at all could earn a decent living in vaudeville.  There were the renowned Dolly Sisters from Poland, as well as Chinese plate twirlers, Hungarian acrobats, jugglers from all countries, and acts that sang in their own languages"

"Spanning the late 1800s to the mid-1930s in America, this piece shows how performers survived two Depressions, war, oppression, segregation, discrimination of all sorts, struggles for human/ workers'/ women's rights, and the like.  It also reveals that vaudeville was "family entertainment" and the starting point for major stars:  Burns & Allen, Abbott & Costello, the Marx Brothers, Gallagher & Shean ("Sunshine Boys"), Will Rogers, WC Fields, Fanny Brice, Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, and so many more."

For further information on NY Artists Unlimited and its offerings, please visit the website  www.NYartists.org.  For reservations and information, call 212-242-6036 or e-mail Nyartunltd@aol.com.

Admission is $10 adults ($9 for South Street Seaport Museum members); $5 children.

Photo - Melba LaRose, Nate Steinwachs, Jules Hartley - The Dolly Sisters fight over Harry Fox (Bronx Library Center)

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