Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic
Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

For those of you who are too young either to have seen or enjoyed America’s early entertainment art form (and that includes me), you now have a window of opportunity to enjoy that “old but new” entertainment experience – Vaudeville as it was performed back in the early 20th century.

The Indio Performing Arts Center (IPAC) production of a “Handful of Nickels & Dimes” now on the stage of IPAC returns the audience back one hundred years in time. A time before radio and television variety shows, to a time when live actors and musicians performed all sorts of comedy and slapstick skits, magic shows, juggling and acrobatic acts, and musical numbers.

Vaudeville, as it was known back then, along with its performers, was in the vanguard of an art form that would ultimately morph into the Broadway musical theatre.  When TV came along, TV variety shows and TV sitcoms followed the successful formula of early Vaudeville; adding modern technology to its presentation formats.

nickles (1)Professional performers Jeanette Knight and Michael Seneca were eager share some of the best routines of that era with today’s audiences.  They gathered a group of their professional friends and all put their heads together coming up with a show called “Handful of Nickels & Dimes” that pays homage to the early days of American show business.

Burlesque, was hilarious, bawdy and skit-oriented; quickly becoming home to the naughty ‘double-entendre’. Vaudeville, its more dignified cousin, was the home of the star and headliner variety of performers, like Fanny Brice, performed at IPAC by Knight. Also, a tribute to Burns and Allen, is performed by Knight and Seneca who wonderfully morph into George and Gracie, and the Ziegfeld Follies that features celebrity actor/director Justin Blake as Follies Headliner Will Rogers, and many more.

The show boasting a company of seven performers, who sing, tell jokes and re-create some of the famous numbers and gags from Vaudeville’s golden era include: Jeanette Knight, Michael Seneca, Dean Apple, Justin Blake, Cat Lyn Day, Stephen Kaufmann, Dean Apple, and special guest star Yve Evans, named Monterey Jazz Festival’s musician of the year in 2008.  These talented performers are all award-winning familiar faces, many having performed in venues throughout the Coachella Valley over the years.

One of the highlights of the evening features the incomparable music styling of Eve Evans who brings to life the voice and music of the great Bessie Smith with such renditions as “If You Don’t, I Know Who Will” and the saucy “Handy Man”.  “Make Some One Happy” from the Broadway show “Little Me”; “Second Hand Rose from the Ziefeld Follies show of 1921”; and a poignant styling of “My Man” that is pure poetry, along with. “Black and Blue” by Linda Hopkins and Ruth Brown both of whom are favorites of Evans which, thankfully, usually find their way into her performances..  The duet with Blake of “Let’s Fall in Love” by the great Harold Arlen, and Frank Loesser’s classic 1944 “Baby Its Cold Outside” hit the spot.  My personal Evans favorite is a cheeky, double-entendre number called “The Chair” which, ironically is in keeping with the overall double-entendre theme of the production.

A “Handful of Nickels & Dimes” is a delightful and entertaining evening in the theatre.  The , show performs at the Indio Performing Arts Center (IPAC), located at 45-175 Fargo St., Indio.  For tickets and reservation information call the Box Office at 760-775- 5200.  The show runs through March 22, 2015. The curtain is 7:00 pm.