As a Special Event for PICA, Portlander Wendy Westerwelle Remounts Her Original One-Woman Show on the Life and Times of Burlesque Star Sophie Tucker

The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) is pleased to present a remount of Wendy Westerwelle’s original one-woman show, Soph: A Visit with the Last of the Red Hot Mamas. Evening performances will take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday, December 4th, 5th & 6th at 8 p.m. at the Aladdin Theater, with a special matinee performance on Sunday, December 7th at 2 p.m. Tickets for all shows are $15 general admission; $13 for PICA members and may be purchased in advance by calling PICA at 242-1419. This is a special event and is not part of PICA’s 1997/98 season ticket.

Nearly a decade ago, Portland actress, singer and writer Wendy Westerwelle captivated audiences up and down the West Coast with her burlesque-monologue Soph: A Visit with the Last of the Red Hot Mamas. Her compelling portrayal of the life and work of the legendary Sophie Tucker received unprecedented critical acclaim and solidified Westerwelle as a unique and major talent.

Visiting with Tucker in her dressing room, she recounts her life on and off the stage, punctuated by signature tunes from her 62-year career, such as “My Yiddish Mama,” “Mr. Segal, Make It Legal,” “The Older They Get, The Younger They Want ‘Em” and “The Angleworm Wiggle” for which she was arrested in Portland in 1910. In her portrayal of Tucker, Westerwelle splendidly captures the earthy humor, kitchen-table philosophizing and democratic bluntness that were the singer’s trademarks and delivers them with a freshness and punch that transcends time.

Program

PICA presents
Soph: A Visit with the Last of the Red Hot Mamas

Starring Wendy Westerwelle

Original Direction in 1984 by Ric Young at The Storefront Theatre, Portland

Director – LuAnne Moldovin

Musical Director – Ron Snyder

Written by Wendy Westerwelle & Vana O’Brien

Research – Wendy Westerwelle, Vana O’Brien & Brian Haliski

Edited by Jim Welier for the Los Angeles performance at the Callboard Theatre, Beverly Hills

Lighting – Bill Boese
Stage Managers – Diane Bocci & Jan Baran
Costume Design – Maria Moreno
Ms. Westerwelle’s Dresser – Maria Moreno
Choreography – Greg Bielemeier
Recorded Music – Jack Falk

Research Source – Sophie Tucker’s scrapbooks at the Lincoln Center Billy Rose Theatre Collection Libray in New York
Source suggested by Dr. Susan Mason

Special thanks to John Hadeed, Torso Vintages; Moe’s Pianos; and Gwen Procknow.

Songs

Some of These Days
Sweet Letter from You
Hello My Baby
Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey
There’s More Music in a Grand Baby Than There Is in a Baby Grand
Mammy’s Chocolate Solider
I Ain’t Got Nobody
Dark Town Strutter’s Ball
It’s Moving Day Way Down in Jungle Town
There’s Company in the Parlor
Hula Loo
The Angleworm Wiggle
You Gotta See Mama
Always
Mister Siegal Make it Legal
Fifty Million Frenchmen
My Yiddishe Mama
Life Begins at Forty
I’m Living Alone and I Like It
I’m Starting All Over Again

Wendy’s Notes

When I was growing up on the South Side of Chicago on Essex Avenue, every Shabbos my mother, various aunts, uncles, bubbes and zadyes would have brisket, kugel, green bean mushroom soup casserole, and challah and French pastry brought by my rich Uncle Julie, who drove an aqua 1957 Thunderbird, was a bachelor, knew Hugh Hefner, dated shikses and later stole the family fortune, etc. Oh, but I digress. Anyhoo, at these serene and deeply spiritual Friday night dinners, after discussing my weight problem, after my performance of the Nutcracker Suite Ballet in which I played all the parts dressed in a pink tutu, my family would settle down on the plastic covered white brocade fringed furniture and we would listen to the great Sophie Tucker on the Hi Fi. Soph was gutsy and loud and she sang specialty songs about men, sex, adultery and female independence. Some songs were talked, some were sung, but all of them made us either laugh or cry. Even at nine years old, I loved her because of her voice, her glamour, her individuality and her zaftig shape. I never forgot her through the years. She mean a lot to me and reminded me of those countless Friday night dinners, and the Ed Sullivan Show on Sundays where she often appeared, scarf in hand, diamonds and furs dripping.

Skip to 1984 — I had been living in Portland, Oregon for nine years as an active member of The Storefront Theatre. Having just completed the original Angry Housewives, I wanted a project that would be creatively challenging and really stretch me as a performer. My darling, talented friend Vana O’Brien, knowing I was Jewish, thought it would be most appropriate for me to do a one woman show about Sophie Tucker, the great Jewish singer/comedienne. Vana, a lovely, gentile girl, had gone to only Catholic schools growing up and Soph and I were the only two Jews she’d ever known or heard of. Well, I loved the idea, I went wild. How could that goyishe gal have known Soph was my hero! So Vana and I researched, we listened to recordings, we wrote, we rewrote, we ate bagels, went to New York, ate cheesecake from Zabar’s, ate corned beef at Katz’s, wrote some more, she walked much faster than me, I complained a lot and we wrote.

Finally, Soph was presented at The Storefront Theatre on November 25, 1984. My best friend and mentor, Ric Young, directed it and after many performances to sold out crowds, many would-be producers with shetls on their heads, many magic and not-so-magic moments, Ric made me dinner at his fabulous apartment. He said in a dramatic fashion, that only he could pull off and which was quintessential Ric, “Wendy, you must go to LA and perform Soph. You’ve grown past Portland. I will miss you, but you must try. It’s time for you to go.” Oh, brother! “You must go and be a star.” Oh, for God’s sake!

So, I left in my pink 1957 Rambler, and cried for two years from homesickness, but finally Soph was produced at the Callboard Theatre in Beverly Hills, California. This director, however, was no Ric Young. His favorite expression was (say this in your head as bitchy as possible) “Is there a problem?” Oy Vey! Anyway, Soph went very well, critically acclaimed, busloads of retired Jewish people from Laguna Beach, agents, etc. I stayed in LA for six years.

Skip to now — I’ve been home in Portland for five and a half years and turned fifty this September. And guess what? I met this darling little pitzle Kristy Edmunds. She believes that PICA people need to see this great vaudevillian Sophie Tucker, this predecessor of performance art, and this Wendy Westerwelle, a genre unto herself, as Kristy puts it. I trust her. I really like this little Kristy. I think she’s such a doll. We have breakfast together, Kristy and I. Well, I have breakfast, she has coffee and a cigarette. Not since Ric have I met someone with this kind of drive and charisma. I want to do this show again, to share Soph with a new audience who has yet to meet to his grand and glorious dame, and for an old familiar audience who has met her and wants to embrace us both again.

I’m just so thrilled at the age of fifty to be performing Soph again and I’m ready to give her and my audience all they deserve. My hoe is that everyone really enjoys themselves and is entertained. Soph has always been and continues to be my special gift for all of you. It’s a way for me to say thank you for all you have given me and to pay homage to the great legendary Sophie Tucker, who paved the way for this zaftig Chicago girl and gave me the courage to be exactly who I was meant to be. Thank you.

—Wendy Westerwelle

Yiddish Glossary

Bubbe grandmother
Zadye grandfather
Shabbos Sabbath
Challah egg twist bread for the Shabbos holiday
Shikse non-Jewish girl
Goyishe non-Jewish people
zaftig heavyset gal, big boned, no feather!
baliboste woman who is a great cooke and homeworker
mensch good, great person, either sex
Shetl hairpiece or toupée
Oy Vey something that happened that is causing me pain, or “Oh brother!” – an idiom used often when frustrated
Pitzle a little something, indicates something or someone small
Schlemiel a jerk who spills his soup
Schemazel the schnook who gets the soup spilled on him
Naches something that is a pleasure derived from ones children; they give “Naches” to parents, grandparents or teachers; a thrill when they do well or shine
Dreistig guts, fearless
Kishnev nowhere, middle of nowhere
Schmendrik a dummy
pushke mad money hidden, a small saving bank
Tzorres troubles
Miskite good-looking challenged
Schrying crying
Utz nag
Kvetch to complain a lot, nudge, bother, be a pest
fuss to eat with gusto, especially when someone else is buying or at a Bar Mitzvah