Vaudeville is returning to Brooklyn!
The form of entertainment that was extremely popular from the late 1800s to the 1930s, when movies took over, is coming back to the borough for one night with “The Spirit of Vaudeville,” which will be presented by Theater 2020 on Tuesday, February 16. The performance is a variety show that includes all forms of family-friendly entertainment such as music, tricks, storytelling, instrument playing and more.
Vaudeville entertainer and storyteller Richard Stillman will be the show’s main attraction, along with jazz guitarist Flip Peters. Stillman promises that audiences will see a wide variety of attractions.
“The show includes singing, juggling, and musical acts all mixed together. It has all kinds of entertainment,” he said, noting that story-telling also plays a significant role in the show. “The fun of the show is that some of the stories told are true and some are made up. It’s up to the audience to decide which is which.”
Among the show’s highlights are stories featuring a fictional character called Strawman who performs vaudeville at Coney Island, selling soda, candy and musical soda straws. “He then saw a family coming off the beach and looked at their kid and realized he looked unhappy, so he gives him one of these musical soda straws,” explained Stillman, adding, “there’s a whole section about Coney Island in the show.”
Stillman also provides audiences with historic reference. “I talk about vaudevillians and I do material from famous performers Will Rogers and Harry Lauder,” he said.
Music from the 1920s will also be featured. “Peters is a guitarist and he works all around New York City,” Stillman said, noting that the show will feature a heavy jazz influence. “We trade solos. He plays guitar and I play the mandolin, banjo, ukulele, bagpipes, bones, harmonica, musical soda straw, tap dance cane and musical washboard.”
As far as stunts goes, Stillman also boasts an impressive set. “At the end, I tap dance, then with the right hand, I juggle and with the left hand, I play bones and a rhythm instrument. And I play the harmonica with my mouth at same time,” he said.
Stillman has spent many years honing his craft. He’s also an actor, who performed in the Broadway adaptation of “The Canterbury Tales.”
“I was doing a show on Broadway and was asked to audition for another one,” he said. “They asked if I played the banjo and to come next week because they needed one. I learned how and got the part and someone told me about vaudeville.”
He then got his start in vaudeville with street fairs in the early 1980s. “I performed on sidewalks. I was about 30 years old and I’d perform all over Brooklyn, like Flatbush, Canarsie and Brooklyn Heights,” he said.
According to Stillman, the show caters to all demographics. “What is great about the show is that it’s intergenerational,” he said. “I do attract seniors because the music is from their time period. They also bring their grandchildren. There are very different things for them and they end up loving it and having a great time. It’s a good and clean family show and I’ve gotten a great reception.”
Stillman is looking forward to returning to the borough. “I’m hoping to have a bigger following in Brooklyn,” he noted. “It’s been a while. This is my first public show in a theater in Brooklyn since performing during those street fairs. I’m coming home.”
Stillman also discussed his excitement about being a part of Theater 2020. “They bring Broadway class performers to Brooklyn Heights,” he said. “They do a great job.”
“The Spirit of Vaudeville” will be performed on Tuesday, February 16 at the McKinney Chapel at the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, 116 Pierrepont Street. Tickets are $20. To purchase, tickets, visit www.th2020vaudeville.bpt.me