Putting the funny back in Miller Symphony Hall, ‘Ladies of Laughter’ series revives vaudeville heritage
Sounds of raucous laughter regularly echoed throughout the former Lyric Theatre in Allentown. The Lyric, now known as Miller Symphony Hall, was a popular venue for burlesque shows, theatrical productions, silent films, vaudeville acts and even prizefights during the early part of the 20th century.
Because of its proximity to larger cities such as New York and Philadelphia, the Lyric was often a “try-out” stage for well-known performers and playwrights seeking to hone their work prior to opening on Broadway and other big-city stages.
Renowned for its music programming, Miller Symphony Hall hasn’t played host to clowns or comics in quite some time. The “Ladies of Laughter Funny and Fabulous Comedy Series” brings the funny back to Miller Symphony Hall’s Rodale Community Room at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13.
“I’ve been here almost nine years and we did one [comedy show] Chicago City Limits [New York City-based improvisation and sketch comedy troupe] a few years ago, but that was before all the construction and all the new people downtown,“ says Sheila Evans, executive director of Allentown Symphony Association, which owns and operates Miller Symphony Hall.
Performing on the Oct. 13 bill at Miller Symphony Hall are Jocelyn Chia, Stacy Kendro and Missy Grynkiewcz.
“Ladies of Laughter” continues Feb. 2 with Jane Condon and Patt Rosborough, and April 27, with Kelly MacFarland and Chris Rich in the Rodale Room.
“What we’re doing now is starting a series with the objective of attracting the new energy of people downtown,” she adds. “The overarching mission is: What can we do that has an incrementally greater attractiveness to the people that are now living and working downtown? And comedy is one.
“We have to figure out what our audience likes and wants, what the appetite is for. There are lots of people coming downtown, more so than ever before.
“We are trying to stay in the size venue that we’ve had such success with our jazz groups because it’s much more intimate. People love it [the Rodale Room]. It’s appropriate for how the roots of comedy started,” says Evans.
“It’s not an arena. It’s about being in a place where you can get the feedback from your audience.”
The “Ladies of Laughter” tour features talented female comedians from the eponymous national competition. The show has brought its funny ladies to theaters across America.
“In our competition for funny ladies we have two divisions, newcomer and professional,” explains Peggy Boyce, executive director of “Ladies of Laughter.”
“Jocelyn was our newcomer winner the last round. She’s from Singapore and has an interesting story. She was an attorney but now she’s a comedian.
“You learn about Jocelyn. She’s so different. You don’t see a lot of Asian women doing this. And she also has a really interesting take on growing up.
“Missy [Grynkiewcz] is one of our more seasoned performers. You can put her in any slot. She can really open up and work the crowd,” says Boyce. “She’ll probably do the bulk of the show and be the host. She sets the tone for the evening in a very positive way. Missy appeals to everyone. She doesn’t have an edge. She’s just very lovable.
“Stacy [Kendro], the other gal on our show, was the runner up for our professional division. She’s very strong. She’s originally from Boston and her material is very direct and a little more deadpan. You really get a true sense of who she is as a person through her material.”
Of the three comedians Boyce adds, “They’re all so different. And that’s why I put them all together, so that people will get a little something different from everybody.”
The “Ladies of Laughter” competition and subsequent tour was born out of earlier supportive and women-centric comedy competitions and alternative performance spaces designed to increase visibility and stage time for female comics.
“When I started [Ladies of Laughter], there really weren’t as many women doing it [stand up]. All of a sudden, all these theaters that I reached out to wanted to book the past winners,” says Boyce. “So, we packaged the past winners into a show called the ‘Ladies of Laughter Funny and Fabulous.’
“Miller Symphony Hall, we are doing three shows with them [this season]. We bring different ladies in each time. It really seems to work. Women in comedy right now is still really hot. I don’t expect it to go away.”
Summing up the “Ladies of Laughter” tour, Sheila Evans adds, “I think of it as something you can take your parents and understanding grandparents to.”
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715