Judging by their latest work, The Big Time: New Vaudeville for the Holidays, the writers at 1812 Productions should have been born 100 years earlier. Their show illustrates that while the need for comedic talent and a knack for performance may hold constant from era to era, each age's subject matter must reflect its time - and audience.
The Big Time consists of two acts of skits, songs, and comedic segments, most introduced by titled cards. "The Hillbilly Legend," Scott Greer, sings clever ditties about reluctant girls; Jennifer Childs proves attitude equals appeal in the bubblegum burlesque "Up and Away"; and in "Dave's Day in Court," Dave Jadico plays a mustachioed tennis player from the '70s, wearing too-short shorts that would have embarrassed the cast of Three's Company.
In a running interlude, Childs and Jadico appear as a young couple preparing for a date ('50s prom, '80s club, etc.), pantomiming the dressing, driving, and decorum of each age. Gregory Nix plays an earnest stagehand who longs for a full role in the cast; the show builds its brief arc around his character, who also adds narration and a bit of historical exposition.
It's all done with a heap of panache and sharp timing that only promise to improve when local comedy heavyweight Tony Braithwaite joins the cast halfway through the run. But no matter how impressive the delivery, the material remains rooted in a bygone time and reminds - at its best - of The Lawrence Welk Show, Hee Haw, and a slew of variety shows long ago purged from television and the cultural consciousness.
And while Childs and Greer attempt to inject new life into a blend of Smith and Dale-style jokes, even some of the new material falls flat when compared to past 1812 shows (really, how many times does 1812's audience need to see Jadico juggle?).
In his opening monologue, Nix tells us about vaudeville that "shows like this don't exist anymore." Yeah, there's a reason for that.
Big Time: New Vaudeville for the Holidays
Presented by 1812 Productions through Dec. 31 at Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Pl.
Tickets: $30 to $40. Information: 215-592-9560, 1812productions.org.