Variety at Imogene, medicine show at Loblolly and Bubba at PLT

by Michele K. Jones
Published in The Real Paper, June 29, 2001.

Pensacola is serving up a heapin' helping of showmanship this weekend as three local theaters reach back to the roots of entertainment to present a variety night, a traveling medicine show and a good ol' Southern Bubba.

The Imogene Little Theater in Milton presents "Joker's Wild" a two-hour, fast-paced variety show featuring dancers, singers, musicians, actors and a few surprise acts. The show includes performers of all ages, from Jillian Miller, a 15-year-old singer, to Brenda Gilley, a self-described "little old Southern lady" who will regale audiences with Minnie Pearl-style stories.

Linda Cloud, a native Northwest Floridian and retired educator, directs the show. She brings to the Imogene Little Theater years of performing and directing experience including previous variations of "Joker's Wild" at the Lake Wales Little Theater in Central Florida.

For another type of variety show, check out The Loblolly Theatre, Pensacola's only repertory theater, as it opens "Dr. Allistair Winthrop's Traveling Physic Opera" this weekend. Visit an era where aches and pains were magically cured by special potions and the itinerate doctor who sold it could also sing a tune or two.

"We're bringing back something that was part of our theater and entertainment history," said Yolanda Reed, writer, director and producer for the Loblolly Theatre.

Traveling medicine shows were popular for about 50 years, beginning around 1880 and traveling chiefly through the Midwest. Though the entertainment drew crowds, "the sell was the thing," said Reed, as legitimate and phony doctors alike roamed the country peddling their wares.

Written and performed by eight of Loblolly's regular cast members, the medicine show offers a unique arrangement of skits, jokes and songs. Audience members can even purchase some "Medicinal Mints" or "Juvenation Juice."

Finally, The Pensacola Little Theater hosts two performances of "An Evening with Bubba," featuring T. Bubba Bechtol, a Southern comedian, Pensacola resident and regular on "The Grand Ol' Opry."

Bechtol has performed on NBC's "The Today Show" and for Presidents Carter and Reagan at the White House. Additionally, he has opened for various recording artists including Brooks & Dunn, Gloria Estefan, Reba McEntire and George Jones.

According to Jennifer O'Neal of PLT, Bechtol hopes to make his performance in Pensacola an annual event and eventually create a summer comedy festival in the area.

Audience members have the opportunity to be immortalized in the record industry, as the performances will be recorded for Bechtol's first album with MCA Records in Nashville and the recordings used as laugh tracks for future albums.

The White Sands Panhandle Band, bluegrass national champions, will open the show.

This weekend, after the sun and sand have fried your hide and the mosquitoes have have bitten up your barbeque, explore some of Pensacola's undiscovered wealth of talent at a local community theater. Or as Bubba might say, go get yourself cultured.