Legendary entertainer Loretta Mary Aiken, aka Jackie “Moms” Mabley saw and endured a lot in her 81 years. Born in 1894 in Brevard, North Carolina, Aiken saw racial, sexual and political oppression throughout her time performing in African-American vaudeville i.e. the Chitlin’ circuit. The at times caustic-tongued Mabley paved the way for African American women actors like Whoopi Goldberg, Alfre Woodard, and Angela Bassett.
The 2011 Washington Area Music Awards, Best Cabaret Artist nominee brought Mabley to life in her one-woman show, A Night with Jackie Moms Mabley, which she wrote and directed. With songs written by Aiken, Eddie Parton, and Lewis Allen, A Night with Jackie Moms Mabley is an unforgettable night of laughter, fun and “edu-tainment” that will leave audiences with wide grins and warm hearts.
Wooten, who performs cabarets (her next one is May 6) and A Night with Jackie Moms Mabley a number of times a year at Germano’s Piattini in Baltimore, portrayed Mabley as a preachy, know-it-all mother hen to all who would care to listen to her tales and songs. Wooten expertly enlivened the body language of Mabley, including her shuffling walk and bent shoulders, complete with her droopy hat and granny-dress. Wooten even had Mabley’s voice down as evidenced by taking a look at the real Jackie “Moms” Mabley in a late 60’s TV appearance.
As Mabley, who was primarily a comedian, Wooten kept a steady stream of double entendres on speed dial, riffing on everything, from lusty old men, Southern racism, ugly lovers, and naughty ladies. You can sense the flavor of the show in this short clip.
Throughout the show, which was nominated for the Helen Hayes’ Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play, the powerfully-piped Wooten took time to sing, shining in such old tunes like “Mean to Me” by Roy Turk and Fred E. Ahlert; the haunting “Strange Fruit” by Allen; and “Everything is Gonna Be Alright” and “At the End of the Road” by Aiken and Parton.
I loved the long-put-upon Luther the pianist, played by Dr. Everett P. Williams, Jr., (an Adjunct Professor of Piano at Bowie State University) who while never saying a word, had to put up with Mabley’s harsh corrections as he accompanied her songs. There was no real set to speak of, simply a microphone and a piano and the rich imaginative canvas that Wooten drew Mabley’s world on. Thanks to the magnificently talented Wooten, A Night With Jackie Moms Mabley is a night of zingers, anecdotes, history and entertainment for music and comedy lovers of all ages.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.