By Dee Jae Cox
A Handful of Nickels and Dimes, Comedy and music from the golden age of Vaudeville, is currently in production at the Indio Performing Arts Center and running through March 22nd.
Between 1880 and 1920, The Gunfight at the OK Corral occurred, The Statue of Liberty was dedicated, eight states entered the union, The Ford Motor Company raises its wages from $2.40 for a nine-hour day to $5.00 for an eight-hour day, World War I was fought and Women won the battle for the vote. But in the midst of all of the changes that were going on in the country, Americans found their escape in Vaudeville. The Vaudeville circuit was home to more than 25,000 performers, and was the most popular form of entertainment in America.
With a Handful of Nickels and Dimes, double entendres are the theme of the night, almost every song and skit played into the fun and sexy comedy of a bygone era.
Before movies and TV, Americans found our joy on the stage in the form of entertainers like Gracie Allen and George Burns, Will Rogers and Bessie Smith. Songs, dances, comedy and magic gave laughter and hope to a country who did not yet have access to the internet or dreams of Hollywood.
World Renown Jazz/blues singer and pianist, Yve Evans, leads this outstanding cast. Her performances of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith classics such as “My Man’” or Ruth Brown’s classic, “If I can’t sell it, I’ll sit on it,” could be a show all on its own. Evan’s has a voice that is as enticing as a cool drink of water on a hot summer day. I would like to have seen her and her piano moved down stage left a little more so that her performances were not so removed from an audience that obviously loved her.
Magician Dean Apple, whose comedic antics had me smiling and laughing out loud almost immediately, obviously a very gifted performer as well as magician, he could give Houdini a run for the money.
Emcee and vocalist Justin Blake, led the audience through the history of Vaudeville, his duet, ‘baby it’s cold outside’, with Yve Evans, planted a permanent smile on my face.
Jeannette Knight is a class act. From her role as a chorus girl to her impersonation of Gracie Allen, she is smart and funny and never misses a beat.
Cat Lyn Day, Stephen Kauffman and Michel Seneca round a cast that most definitely knows how to work and play together. It’s an ensemble that pulls the audience up on the stage and along for the ride as they showcase talent and skits from a golden age.
I loved seeing Burns and Allen, Will Rogers and Bessie Smith, alive and doing Vaudeville again. This group of actors will take you back and make you long for something you never knew you missed. I would like to have seen just a little more cohesiveness in showing and less telling of what made Vaudeville so popular and why this show was so important.
Although I’ve never seen a program that gave no credit to anyone, except for a list of the actors. There is no identified writer or director credited for A Handful of Nickels and Dimes. No one identified for lights or sound or set design. A note of thanks to Jane Treacy for donating several costumes, though I’m not sure who made the costuming choices. I thought perhaps it was just like in the early days of theatre, when a group of talented actors got together and decided to put on a show. Theatre is a collaborative art and this group certainly knows how to collaborate.
A Handful of Nickels and Dimes is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, March 22, at the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo St., Indio. There are no shows March 6-8. Tickets are $26 with discounts. For tickets or more information, 760-775-5200, or www.indioperformingartscenter.org.
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of KPTR 1450’s hit radio show, “California Woman 411” in Palm Springs.