Mondo Vaude Returns to Vail-Leavitt in Riverhead

Who doesn’t like an old-fashioned burlesque/vaudeville show? Live music, comedy and gorgeous women—the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead will have it all when it hosts The Return of Mondo Vaude on May 11 at 8 p.m. Direct from Coney Island, the show features the New York Variety All-Stars, which includes magic, sideshow and other “death-defying” acts, all live onstage. The show is for those 17 and over.

The Return of Mondo Vaude is a modern take on classic burlesque; burlesque, of course, being a parody or absurdist treatment of popular source material. Modern burlesque has seen a resurgence in recent years. By combining elements of striptease, comedy and other aspects of stagecraft, modern burlesque is a way for performers to showcase themselves in a multifaceted way. Dancers can showcase their comedy chops or magic skills while performing a choreographed number onstage.

Chris Jones and Bob Barta, producers of Mondo Vaude, were kind enough to chat with me about the upcoming show. “The first show we did in Riverhead at the Vail-Leavitt was a full house and everyone I talked to said they had a great time. I met Judy Leavitt, who I guess is the granddaughter of the Leavitt that owned the theater. She said, ‘wow, if my grandfather knew you guys were bringing a show like this back to the Vail, he’d be pretty happy about it!’” Jones said.

“The Vail is historic, as entertainment progressed into the 1900s, musical productions and the growth of American pop music put the Vail on the map as a music hall. Vaudeville focused a bit more on the comedy, burlesque focused on pretty females and dancing. “Both appealed to a wide audience back then. Our show has a perfect balance of the two. We’ve got singers, music, variety and sideshow stuff. It’s a real mixed bag,” Barta said.

Riverhead’s Vail-Leavitt Music Hall is the perfect venue for Mondo Vaude. Both men gushed about the rich history of the Hall’s connection to old-time vaudeville and variety acts. “The Vail is the perfect spot for what we’re trying to do with Mondo Vaude.—classic theaters are exactly the right fit for our show,” said Barta.

The show was put together in the same way a classic vaudeville show was, with performers working on their acts for a good amount of time before performing. Though this modern take on vaudeville will be more polished, both Barta and Jones emphasized the excitement and immediacy of live theater. “We try to retain that element of fun. We want people to see something exciting, fresh, organic and happening. All right there on the fly,” Jones said. “Not a stuffy, overproduced kind of show.”

The show is sporting some new additions this year. “Last year, we used a lot of pre-existing material, but now we’ve got all original stuff. This year, I’ve written a tango for a chair dance and more for the burlesque performers,” Jones said. The show has also added a Russian contortionist, Miss Ekaterina, who has performed with Cirque Du Soleil and has been named Miss Coney Island. “She kind of brings a different spectrum to the show that we didn’t have last time,” Jones added.

Both agree that Mondo Vaude connects with an audience on a very basic level. “I think that audiences want something that feels real,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of very superficial, super-fabricated entertainment nowadays and I think that, since we’re in a digital, on-demand world, on a subconscious level, people want to reconnect with entertainment the way they used to—by seeing a performer do something live, in front of you, right on the spot.”

“Our performers are doing things that the average person only dreams about, but never really does. Our performers all share the theme of being regular people, too, so I think theatergoers can relate and are engaged by that,” Barta noted. Mondo Vaude is certainly an exciting addition to the East End’s theater offerings. Burlesque, combined with vaudeville and sideshow-style acts and performances are sure to capture the imagination.

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