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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 4 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 40
Just like Moms used to make - Remembering the first female (and first Lesbian) headliner at the Apollo
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Just like Moms used to make - Remembering the first female (and first Lesbian) headliner at the Apollo

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

HELLO DARLIN'S
LANGSTON HUGHES PERFORMING ARTS INSTITUTE
Through October 26


Does the name Moms Mabley ring a bell with you? You're likely at least 45 years old if it does. But whatever your age, Moms is well worth finding out more about! And there is currently a world-premiere play about her, featuring the talented Josephine Howell, at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.

Written by Dan Owens and directed by Jacqueline Moscou, this homage, Hello Darlin's: Moms Got Something to Tell You! re-introduces Moms, who died in 1975 at age 81, to a modern audience. Jackie 'Moms' Mabley was a pioneer of the 'Chitlin Circuit,' a group of playhouses around primarily the Eastern and Southern U.S. where performers of color were allowed on segregated stages.

Moms broke all kinds of ground for performers, particularly women and Lesbians, by being the first woman comic to headline at the Apollo Theater in New York City, and therefore, the first Lesbian to do so. She came out when she was 27, though she didn't make a big deal of it, and it didn't seem to inhibit her ability to get performing gigs.

Moms was X-rated. Her double entendres were legion, though nowadays they would be considered tame. The play at LHPAI shows her performing her patter, singing songs, and joshing with the audience. Howell is fantastic in her portrayal of this icon of comedy. She has all kinds of shades of delivery and pacing and inhabits them all with conviction and panache.

The play links Moms to past television shows like The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Merv Griffin Show. There are montages of photographs of performers she worked with, including Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte, and the fact that she recorded an iconic version of the song 'Abraham, Martin and John' that hit the Billboard Hot 100. She was the oldest singer ever to achieve that distinction.

NOT A BIOGRAPHY
Since the play is told all in first person, it doesn't delve deeply into any reasons for Moms' life's decisions. Even the reason she found her way into entertainment is vague. But the vigorous and cheeky performance of Howell sweeps us along with few questions. Howell occasionally banters with a pianist, Cedric Thomas, who plays Luther the Piano Man. He provides smooth accompaniment to her singing.

What ends up being disappointing has little to do with the performers and everything to do with poor technical help, which is frankly baffling. The sound bounces all around in a venue where microphones are likely superfluous, if they would just un-mic the piano and let Josephine Howell perform the way she does. And the technician running the booth made mistake after mistake with cues, lights, and photography. The venue has had a huge upgrade in its physical plant and deserves competent technicians who can deliver proper support for the talents onstage. Here's hoping that the Institute starts acting more like a professional venue with a professional reputation to uphold and less like a place that lets high-school interns learn on the job. For more information, go to www.langstoninstitute.org or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/431678, or call 1-800-838-3006.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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