Comedian Jackie Mason’s daughter Sheba stars in a musical about the relationship between her mother and father in The Jackie Mason Musical running now through January 22 at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.
The late comedian, who died in 2021 at age 93, never publicly acknowledged that he had a daughter until he was forced by a judge to pay child support for Sheba until she was 18.
Even after Mason settled his paternity suit, he never contacted Sheba despite her many attempts to meet him.
“I ran into him (Jackie Mason) on the street, but once he recognized me, he ran the other way. From the time I was a baby, I never knew him. Maybe it is better that way as I never had a sense of loss when he died,” said Sheba Mason, who as her father, earns her living as a stand- up comic and actress.
However the musical is not a drama about the pain suffered by Sheba and her mother, playwright Ginger Reiter, who wrote the musical that was first titled 702 PunchLines and Pregnant in 1983. Rather, the musical takes a light hearted and humorous look at Jackie Mason and his many romantic relationships.
Reiter and Sheba Mason had much success with The Jackie Mason Musical which was first performed in 1985 and has been running for close to 40 years in New York, South Florida and other locations across the country.
“The 702 punchlines are for all the times that I had been with Jackie. Despite everything, I cared about Jackie and did not want to portray only his dark side. He was brilliant in his work and the musical bears this out,” said Reiter.
Reiter was 22 when she met 46 year old Mason at the Rascal House restaurant in Sunny Isles Beach and began a romantic relationship with him that led to the birth of Sheba in 1985.
Comedian Jackie Mason at age 90
The musical is funny because of its fast pace, multiple one line jokes and actor Ian Wehrle’s portrayal of Jackie Mason with a thick Yiddish accent.
The opening scene has Sheba breaking the fourth wall on stage in briefly talking about herself before portraying Ginger.
“Jackie Mason was a great comedian. But I wish I was the child of a better-looking comedian- like Woody Allen or Rosie O’ Donnell,” said Sheba Mason before returning on stage as Ginger.
As Mason, Wehrle portrays the comedian as a self- serving egomaniac with a need to be the center of attention on and off stage, including his desire to have Ginger along with a large legion of lovers throughout his life.
Upon first meeting Ginger, Jackie (Wehrle) says “It was a great pleasure for you to meet me” to the hilarious laughs of the sold out audience on opening night.
There are 21 original Reiter songs performed by the seven-member cast as the audience sees the ups and downs of Ginger and Jackie’s relationship from 1977-1988.
The song “Early Bird Special” depicts the fun days of the now defunct Rascal House being at one time a popular setting for both residents and tourists to Sunny Isles Beach.
Other musical highlights include “Mama’s Always Right” that depicts Ginger’s mother Mrs. Olivier (actress Cherrill Rae) as the pushy woman who orchestrated Ginger and Jackie meeting, despite their over twenty year difference in ages. In this scene, Wehrle sings “This Yenta”, one of Jackie Mason’s popular expressions to categorize Ginger and other Jewish women..
One of the funniest lines in the show is in the scene at the Rascal House with Mrs. Oliver saying to her daughter “I’m not saying go to bed with him, at least not on the first date”.
Sheba Mason shines in her portrayal of Ginger with her playfulness and comic timing.
Actresses Jennifer Fain (Trixie) and Vicki Klein (Rosa) portray two women who Jackie attempts to have romance with while dating Ginger to add to the humor.
Rounding out the cast is Jackie’s friend and underling Shlepalong (actor Michael Vadnal) who arranges dates for Jackie and actor Patrick Vida as Nelson.
One dramatic moment in the musical which Mason called “The Finger”, recalls a 1964 appearance by Mason on the television variety show “Ed Sullivan” in which Mason gave Sullivan an obscene one finger salute that led to Mason being banned from the Sullivan show for several years.
The “finger incident” resulted in Mason not performing at top prestigious hotels for several decades until he resurrected his career with his Broadway run of “The World According To Me” in 1986. Mason performed the show before sold out audiences for two years and won a Tony Award for theatrical achievement in 1989.
The cast of “The Jackie Mason Musical” sing “Ode To The Early Bird Special”