Four years ago, 1812 Productions began their season with a comedy revue called “Broads.” It was a compilation of bits curated by their Producing Artistic Director, Jennifer Childs from the careers of women comics, from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. The multi-talented Childs also added new material to the mix of jokes, routines, and songs. Now, they are bringing back that and am so glad that I have gotten a chance to see this uproarious review featuring many of the rebels of comedy from Mae West, Moms Mabley, and Sophie Tucker to other trailblazers who opened the doors for today’s comediennes.
The show is bold. It is naughty. It is bawdy. These are the women who didn’t play by the accepted standards of they day. These were women who were smart- no brilliant! They are BROADS and proud of it. They break the rules. They write and perform material that is often banned. Mae West spent eight days in jail for her show, “Sex,” after it had been panned by all the papers, yet sold out for a year and was frequented by society men and women.
Much of their humor is about the man’s penis though the word is never mentioned. We learn of a song by Clara Smith about making a dead man come. Spinach is the metaphor used in the hilarious 1930’s song, “I Didn’t Like it the First Time.”
There were so many one liners and fast jokes, the audience was in stitches. Yet though it was a revue, it flowed seamlessly as Melanye Finister, Rebecca Robbins, and Mary Elizabeth Scallen delivered the jokes and sang the songs without trying to imitate the old stars. Instead, they were just giving us the feel, the joy of extraordinary women. And they gave us something else, something important- they gave us the history.
That may sound intimidating but it is not, thanks to the marvelous manner in which Childs has researched the backgrounds of the women and then, integrated it between jokes and songs that let me learn as I laughed.
There was a vaudeville circuit for African-Americans who usually weren’t allowed to perform in white clubs. Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters got their starts there. Mae West wasn’t just a beautiful bawdy actress with a few famous lines that we all remember. She was a playwright and a screenwriter and she spoke out for gay rights back in the ‘20’s. Sophie Tucker joked and sang about how she didn’t need to look like Hollywood starlets- Nicknamed “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” she was happy with her heavy frame.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mark Randall, the onstage pianist who provided the music to accompany three talented and wonderful actors. The softness of his accompaniment was perfect.
And Jen Childs is simply amazing. She created a comedy theater 25 years ago and it as strong as ever! What a talent!! Thank you, Jen, for giving us “Broads.” I loved every minute of the 75 minute show. You will too.
“Broads” at 1812 Productions Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, PA 19103, 215-592-9560 1812productions.org Thru February 26, 2023