Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: MOXIE: A HAPPENSTANCE VAUDEVILLE a Delightful Family Treat

It's summer and it's high time we had some family fun that was a little bit wacky, a little bit musical, a little winsome and romantic-you know, kinda like Vaudeville.

By sheer coincidence, Happenstance Theatre has come up with a perfect evening's entertainment: "Moxie: A Happenstance Vaudeville" gives your rambunctious youngster a few moments of gleeful anarchy, your friends a little of the old soft shoe, while mom & dad can "ooh" and "aah" over Sabrina Mandell's stunning period costumes and some truly beautiful tableaux. The company has collaborated to create a satisfying production with something for everyone - and I mean everyone.

Part nostalgia, part - well, OK, let's just say all nostalgia, Moxie gives us a glimpse of the old Vaudeville entertainment circuit that captivated audiences for generations. In an age when you can become world-famous for a single You-Tube video, we forget that even back in the day performers could find fame (and a modicum of income) if they perfected a single, singular act. It didn't even matter what it was-singing saws, dance, slapstick, declamation (yeah, folks went in for that), mime-you could find a place on the bill. And the best part was that even if your debut was a disaster, you could still sneak back onto the next week's bill with a new name, new promotional blurbs, and the same old act.

The brash exuberance, the canny self-promotion and cynical manipulation of the public taste for spectacle all met in Vaudeville, and Happenstance manages the feat of giving you a survey of the form, with a glimpse of its prime, its decline and its demise. We first meet the company as they disembark from a nearby train (in-house, natch) and they wander onto the stage one by one, checking the house and, with any luck, finding a changing room backstage-rooms of this sort being strictly optional on the road.

One of the many charms of Moxie is its musical selections: with Karen Hansen at the old upright piano, in tux and tie, the show runs through some of the most famous songs from tin-pan alley; we even get a taste of Barbershop-style harmonies for a couple numbers, which is a real treat. Anchoring the cast, however, is Mark Jaster, whose singing saw is a recurring act here. Both Jaster and Mandell-who plays the grand dame elocutionist to perfection-give us a glimpse of performers as they age and their talents begin to slip a bit. Mandell's rendition of a famous Shakespeare monologue is particularly affecting, as we see her in her haughty prime, all artifice, but then later in a faltering rendition of the same speech, faltering and yet far more moving and emotional than before.

Other highlights include Alex Vernon's turn as a hapless magician, desperately trying to remain calm as his act takes on a life of its own, and Gwen Grastorf and Sarah Olmstead Thomas' singing sister act, charming the house whether perched on a swing or miming the lyrics to their tunes. Vernon and Olmstead also have star turns in a pair of classic Pierrot scenarios which are touching in their dreamy ambition.

Happenstance specializes in a gentle brand of humor, and the company has devised a slice of Vaudeville without any of the historical baggage (blackface, etc.) that has rendered it a touchy subject in some circles. It's truly designed for one and all-a visual, musical and comedic delight.

Production Photo: Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell. Photo by Cheyenne Michaels.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Moxie: A Happenstance Vaudeville runs June 24-July 17 at the Roundhouse Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD.

Tickets can be ordered by calling 240-644-1100, logging into
or email:

MacGyver Contest

Related Articles View More Washington, DC Stories

From This Author - Andrew White

Choricius is the nom-du-web of a theater artist who has been involved in the Washington, D.C. scene in various capacities -- as actor, playwright, director, dramaturg -- for a number of years. Credits... (read more about this author)

BWW Review: Olney Theatre's THE JOY THAT CARRIES YOU a Touching Journey Towards Renewal
May 21, 2022

'The Joy that Carries You' is a touching and touchingly thoughtful journey, one which many might recognize in their own. But Secka and Stoller also make this a celebration of the relationships which until (only) very recently were taboo. Thank goodness we're no longer at the stage where seeing two women choosing each other as life-partners is a shock; we can now see them as human beings. But we also know that relationships like this are still fraught with a unique form of anxiety, between the women themselves but especially with their families.

BWW Review: Washington Stage Guild's MEMOIRS OF A FORGOTTEN MAN a Timely Reflection on the Past
May 10, 2022

The Washington Stage Guild has finally had the opportunity to stage D. W. Gregory's searing study of innocence, hardened cynicism and totalitarian self-delusion, 'Memoirs of a Forgotten Man.' In spite of the long hiatus from its premiere four years ago (pre-COVID), the play continues to challenge us, throwing the mirror up to our flawed natures.

BWW Review: Contemporary American Theatre Festival's Listening Party for REDEEMED Yet Another Afternoon of Gripping Drama
May 10, 2022

Recently, CATF supporters gathered to hear one of playwright Chisa Hutchinson's latest pieces, a radio drama that was co-produced with the Vermont's Dorset Theatre Festival. Over a fine, inventively crafted lunch at one of Shepherdstown's newest restaurants, Alma Bea (near the railroad tracks, just a couple blocks from the town's main drag), we were all given headphones and were instantly immersed in a tense, emotionally-wrenching drama 'Redeemed.'

BWW Review: Shakespeare Theatre Company's MOCK TRIAL puts 'Much Ado' on the Witness Stand
April 12, 2022

Last night, the Sidney Harman Theatre was just sitting there, minding its own business. Who knew it would be invaded by a small squadron of lawyers, hell-bent on mayhem, in a full-frontal assault on the integrity of one of Shakespeare's most innocent (if naïve) characters?

BWW Review: Synetic Theater's SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS a Raucous Hilarious Showcase
April 9, 2022

If there were any doubt in your mind that theatre is back, as thrilling and death-defying as ever, make your plans now to see Synetic Theatre’s take on the old Italian classic “Servant of Two Masters.”  Fasten your seat belts, you’ll be on a roller-coaster of virtuosity, wordless and breathless, for a solid hour and a half.