Saturday, February 6, 2016


Medley is the name of the complicated, charming and entertaining gamethe Bearded Ladies are playing in their tuneful cabaret, according to Toby Zinman



by Toby Zinman

for the Inquirer

The Bearded Ladies are five women and two men. They sing—very well--and they wear bizarre costumes. Their new show, Wide Awake: A Civil War Cabaret is  wildly entertaining, even if it still needs some kinks worked out.

Medley is the name of their complicated, charming and entertaining game: old and new, historical and contemporary, male and female, funny and moving, parody and pointed if implicit social commentary. This is the American Songbook in snippets, glimpses, segues, shifts and slides. Old songs from the Old South (“Swanee,” “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” and new songs about the South (“The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Sweet Home Alabama”) and songs from the North (“John Brown’s Body,” “Come Together”). The program lists 33 songs.

The star Bearded Lady is clean shaven; John Jarboe plays Dixie in a spectacular and enormous ante-bellum gown who proves, on stilts, that the South’s gonna rise again. He has a delicious manner and a wonderful tremolo, and is, incarnate, the appeal of the gone-with-the-wind myth America has  succumbed to (just listen to the accents of the Republic candidates as they court us in the Tara of their mind). He is also the fact of the fakeness of all that, being a guy in drag. Dixie/Jarboe reminds us that America has “traded freedom for magnolia blossoms and soft breathable fibers,” good cotton being so hard to get these days, even in the land of.

The Bearded Ladies who are actually ladies are Liz Filios (who sings a gorgeous song with lyrics by Walt Whitman, warning Dixie that  “your ass is leaves of grass”), Jessica Hurley, Rebecca Kanach, Mary Tuomanen, and the outstanding Kristen Bailey. They represent the North in huge Lincoln tophats, corsets, britches, moustaches and boots. Heath Allen is the stalwart piano player and the show’s musical director, and EJ Simpson guests on drums.

The venue is not ideal (not so comfy, poor sightlines) and there are moments in what seems like a work in progress that don’t work, like the dividing of the audience with a rope.  But mostly The Bearded Ladies provide a merry hour of song and fun—as well as a glass of a concoction called Dixie’s Downfall.


Bearded Ladies at the Wilma Theatre Lobby, Broad & Spruce Sts. Through Nov.19, and Dec.1-3 at 10:30 p.m. Tickets $20. Information: 215-546-7824.


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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