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No Applause —Just Throw Money
Many people believe vaudeville is dead. Trav S.D, author of No Applause — Just Throw Money: the Book that Made Vaudeville Famous and founder of American Vaudeville Theatre, doesn't agree. His new show, at Theater for the New City, named after his informative book, is a delightful reminder of just how entertaining vaudeville really was.
Trav, in top hat and fake moustache, is the master of ceremonies. He steps jauntily onto Juliann Krohoth's makeshift stage, which broadly illustrates one vaudevillians might have performed on. Trav banters with the audience and the performers. He holds at bay the overzealous Factota (Maggie Cino), as she keeps demanding a bigger role in the show. Most important, he introduces a number of acts that are representative of what audiences may have seen when vaudeville was at its heights.
Most of the acts are performed throughout the run, but each night there are several guest artists. The night I saw the show, Todd Robbins swallowed a variety of swords, while maintaining a running repartee that both tantalizes and tickles the audience. The other guest act was Main Squeeze Orchestra, twelve girls playing the accordion. Their rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" was truly breathtaking.
The show's mainstays are equally impressive. Leela Corman performs the Dance of the Seven Veils, based on the biblical story of Salome and John the Baptist. The dance was first brought to the vaudeville stage when Willie Hammerstein sent dancer Gertrude Hoffman to Europe to learn it from music hall dancer Maude Allen.
Susanna Perlman performs stand-up and "Sophie's Lament," a comically rhymed song with lyrics by Trav and music by piano accompanist and musical director Rachel Kaufman. The stand-up jokes are a little stale (the Jewish goddess one more time) but the song is hilarious.
The ensemble performs two burlesques: An Irish Melodrama has an all-male cast playing the heavy, the endangered young virgin, the heroic brother, the ineffectual mother and the dying father. The Crime of the Rhyme is a mock mystery told entirely in rhyme.
The show ends with a George M. Cohan-inspired number, "New York's a Patriotic Town." The rousing song has lyrics by Trav and music by Kaufman.
No Applause — Just Throw Money has a slapped together feel that is entire fitting for the era it represents. In this case, lack of polish is a virtue.
With the rise of MTV, the Internet and many other new forms of entertainment, it's easy to forget the importance of vaudeville in the history of American entertainment. However, its influence can be seen in the variety show, the revue and even on Broadway. This show is a timely reminder of not only the debt American theater owes to vaudeville, but also just how enjoyable it must have been to watch the dancers, singers, actors, stunt performers, magicians, jugglers, animal trainers and many, many more who toured the vaudeville circuits at the beginning of the 20th century.