Ann in KISMET, Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre, 1982

Saturday, April 6, 2013


After I left my teaching position at Slidell High School in August of 1978, I moved to New Orleans and began a full-time position at Tulane University’s Newcomb Department of Music as an arts administrator.  I had worked for the Department’s Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre for ten summers prior to my beginning my full-time position as Director of Music Programs.

That Fall of 1978, I took advantage of being in “the big city” of New Orleans and of not having to grade papers, not having to be at school at 8 a.m., and the like, and I enjoyed attending music, musical theatre, theatre,  and opera performances all over town.  One night, a friend took me to a revue at a small club in the French Quarter.  It was based on Black Vaudeville of the 1920’s and it was called One Mo’Time. I didn’t know any of the performers, but a couple of the professors in the music department had told me that I would enjoy it, so I went.  I didn’t just enjoy it; I fell in love with it.  I really didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to see, and I certainly didn’t know why it was called One Mo’Time. . .that is until the performance was over.  And there I was, standing on my chair seat so that I could see over the heads of the people in front of me who were standing and applauding and yelling, “One mo’time!” And I was applauding and yelling with everyone else. It was electric!

Creator, director, and performer Vernel Bagneris had first staged One Mo’Time as a one-night performance at the Toulouse Theatre in the Quarter.  It played longer than that, but soon had to move to another venue as the Toulouse was pre-booked for another show.  That new venue was where I saw Vernel’s show for the first time, and the second time, and the third time!  I never got tired of seeing the show. It was like nothing I had seen or been involved with in my so-called show business career.  I had seen a touring company do Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the performing arts theatre (now Mahalia Jackson Theatre) in New Orleans.  It was very good, but not near as electric as One Mo’Time. I knew most of the Eubie Blake songs in Misbehavin’ yet I knew just a few of the ones in this new musical revue.  That fact made me have to listen to every word that was sung, and the songs were wonderful and very funny with their double entendre lyrics.

The performers and musicians in Time were fabulous, and I couldn’t believe that I had never seen them work before, and they were from New Orleans! It didn’t take me long to realize that my world had just been expanded, and a new genre of music had been added to my list of favorites.  I’m not sure how many times I saw One Mo’Time in the Quarter, but I know I took somebody new with me to share in the experience each time I went to see it, and they all loved it too.

The show must have run in the Quarter on and off for about a year, and then we heard that they had gotten a nod from New York to perform the revue up there as an off-Broadway production.  All of us who had seen and enjoyed the revue were delighted at their opportunity for the big time.

About that time, one of the music professors in the department came to me and asked what I thought about the department’s presenting a sort of farewell production of the revue at our large Dixon Hall before the group left New Orleans for New York.  I thought it was a good idea, but we had to put it before our chairman.  And we did.  The chairman did not think that our established, musically-sophisticated audiences from Uptown New Orleans would appreciate One Mo’Time.  He had not seen it, but he knew of it. What he said was, “we’ll lose our shirts.” The professor and I, both great fans of the revue, kept trying to persuade the chairman to give his ok to the project.  Finally, he gave in and looked at me and said, “Ann, you will have to produce; I don’t want to have anything to do with the show.” And he repeated, “and when you lose money, I’m going to say ‘I told you so!’ ”

I won’t go into the details of signing the contracts, advertising the one-time performance, having the tickets printed, manning the box office, etc., etc., etc.   But, by the time of the performance, we had almost sold out the 1200-seat theatre. Yet, I was still worried.  I had never seen the show on a proscenium stage (such as the small Toulouse Theatre and now the big Dixon Hall Theatre).  When I had seen it, it was in a small club setting.  I had no idea how it would “play” in a large house and especially to the audience our productions usually attracted! And remember, the onus was on ME!  I sweated bullets that night.

The performance was great, and the audience responded appreciatively throughout. The audience laughed at the appropriate times and seemed to enjoy the performance, but I still didn’t know whether or not I would get letters criticizing my choice of programming. And then the exciting last number: A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight!  As soon as the first chorus was sung, the entire audience was on its feet, clapping in time to the music, and they stayed on their feet for the entire song. The ovation was deafening at the end of the song, and therefore, at the end of the show, when all of a sudden dozens of  the ladies and gentlemen were in the aisles, with the others still standing  and applauding. . .they all were cheering, applauding, and then they started yelling, “One mo’time! One mo’time!” And the cast and musicians did the last number again, one mo’time.  Our audience loved the show; they loved the fact that it was New Orleans; they loved the fact that it had been brought Uptown to them to see before the show left for New York.  It was a wonderful experience for us all and a wonderful send-off for the cast.

By the way, we made a profit of $1,700 on that one performance, and my chairman didn’t speak to me  for two weeks. He wasn’t often wrong, but that one time he misjudged the appeal of the show to our audience.  After all, they were New Orleanians! 

The cast went to New York and a few months later, I flew to Montreal, Canada as a guest of the Canadian government to check out the possibility of the Tulane Choir touring Canada later on.  On the way back from Montreal, I stopped in New York City to see some Broadway shows and, of course, One Mo’Time. I really don’t remember what I saw, except the New Orleans musical.  I arrived at the club-setting venue a little early so that I could see the performers before the show as I had gotten to know all of them when we did the show at Tulane.  They were so glad to see somebody “from home.”   A couple were so very homesick, they almost started weeping when they saw me.  Finally, I took my seat in the house and waited to see this wonderful show again, but in New York City!

The show was great.  They had made a few subtle changes, but nobody would have known if they hadn’t seen it so many times as I had.  The cast was full of energy and seemed to be performing just for me.  I say that because I was the only crazy audience member out there obviously enjoying the show.  The other audience members were “sitting on their hands.”  Most of the audience was made up of African-Americans who were some of the best dressed people I had ever seen.  And I remember how beautiful and rich looking the women were and how handsome and successful the men looked.  They were polite, but they did not react the way the former queens and kings of carnival and the scions of New Orleans society had at that Tulane performance.  At the end, I was the only one who was standing up and yelling, “One mo’time!”  Later, I asked the cast if it was always like that; they said no, but sometimes it was. This particular audience acted the way that my chairman had feared that the Tulane audience would react.  I thought it was a very interesting lesson for me to learn.  Our audience members here in New Orleans are secure in themselves and in what they like, and they embrace the varied cultures of New Orleans now and historically.  The NYC audience seemed to be afraid of liking a work that was classified as Black Vaudeville.

One Mo’Time takes place at the Lyric Theatre in New Orleans in the 1920’s.  The real Lyric Theater, at Iberville and Burgundy Streets at the edge of the Storyville red-light district in the French Quarter of New Orleans, burned down in the spring of 1927. The Lyric stage was a stop for many immortals of black vaudeville, including Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Wilbur Sweatman, Jelly Roll Morton, Bert Williams, Butterbeans and Suzy, and Ethel Waters, who performed there under the name of Sweet Mama Stringbean.


According to a review by Glenn Collins in 1990 in the New York Times,  “The plot [of One Mo’Time] is the tale of performers in the Lyric Theater in New Orleans, in the age when vaudeville was evolving into raunchier burlesque in an attempt to compete with motion pictures. The theater owner plans to set fire to the Lyric for the insurance money, but meanwhile the show must go on - and so it does, for 2 acts and 25 musical numbers.”

The show was so successful that Vernel organized several touring groups and One Mo’Time enjoyed fabulous success in Europe and a run in London and even had a command performance before Queen Elizabeth.  Eventually, it had a run on Broadway and now the real reason I have written about this wonderful musical revue.

On Thursday, May 2 at the Blues Tent, beginning at 5:40 p.m. at this year’s Jazz and Heritage Festival, Vernel Bagneris will present the 35th Anniversary Performance of One Mo’Time. I can’t believe that it has been thirty-five years since I first saw this exciting musical.  If I could be helicoptered in just to see that presentation, I might go, but I probably won’t because of the logistics, and why should I break my record of never having attended the Jazz and Heritage Festival?  But if you are there, please go see the performance for me and, certainly, for your own enjoyment!

If you can’t make it, check out a production in Germany several years ago via You Tube.  The titles are in German, but the songs, etc. are in Nawlins English.  There are three segments.  The entire three segments run about 45 minutes. If you don’t have the time to see them all, at least go to the last part of segment 3 for Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight.  After seeing it, you’ll probably find yourself yelling, One Mo’Time! [I wonder if Queen Elizabeth yelled One Mo' Time?]

Segment 1:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbyMEa2gRRg   (about 14 min.)

Segment 2:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA6HnF1uJYc  (about 12 min.)

 Segment 3:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHYh17gxTBE  (about 16 min.)
                                [Note: for last song, go to 10:40 on time-line.]