Amityville-born playwright Ginger Reiter knows she risks being called a “yenta” by her famous ex for mounting another production of “The Jackie Mason Musical: Both Sides of a Famous Love Affair.” After all, one of the memorable tunes she penned for the show is called “I Never Met This Yenta,” sung during a courtroom scene re-creating the headline-grabbing 1980s paternity suit Reiter won against Mason to pay child support for their daughter, Sheba Mason.
“I feel like he [Mason] was more than a lover, he was an education and an experience,” Reiter says. Though she now lives in Boca Raton, Florida, Reiter has been staying with her sister in Central Islip while directing her autobiographical musical, which opens June 22 at Studio Theatre Long Island in Lindenhurst and runs through July 8.
Audiences can expect a nostalgic re-creation of the 1970s, and an authentic re-creation of Mason’s antics, rat-a-tat delivery and politically incorrect put-downs in the musical, which was last seen Off-Broadway in 2015. The idea for the show came about when Mason originally suggested that Reiter write a screenplay about her life. Instead she wrote a play, which she finished before Sheba was born in 1986, and which Mason saw on its opening night. Reiter developed the play into a musical because, she says, "I always thought he [Mason] was such an interesting character."
MOMMY'S LITTLE GIRL
Sheba, now a professional stand-up comedian and actress who lives a block from her father in Manhattan, portrays her mother in the show.
“While I’m playing the role, I can really see what she [Reiter] saw in him,” says Sheba, who was raised by her mother and grandmother and says she met her famous father only once, at a theater.
Reiter, who attended Deer Park schools but graduated from high school after her family moved to New Jersey, earned a bachelor of arts degree in Spanish education at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey. She was a 26-year-old high school English teacher when she met Mason at a delicatessen three days after moving to Miami Beach in 1977. At the time, Mason was in a career slump after being falsely accused of making an obscene gesture during an October 1964 appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
“He sent a woman over to our table to ask whether I wanted to meet Jackie Mason, and my mom said yes,” Reiter recalls of a meet-cute re-created in the musical.
“She’s kind of hard-edged and pushing to get Ginger together with Jackie,” says Mary Ellin Kurtz, 63, of Brentwood, of her role as Reiter’s matchmaker mom.
It falls to David R. Gordon, 51, of Wading River, to make Jackie Mason sing and dance. “I’m 5-foot-11 and weigh 230 pounds, I look nothing like Jackie Mason, but to be honest with you, it works,” says Gordon, who played the role in a production at Empire Stage, a regional theater he owns and operates in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Mason eventually made a triumphant comeback with his 1986 one-man Broadway show, “The World According to Me,” and its sequels. The comedian didn’t respond to Newsday's request for comment, but Reiter says, “He did say to somebody, ‘I hope the show makes a million dollars as long as she doesn’t ask me for money.’ ”
Reiter left teaching to focus on writing and managing her musicals and comedies, which also include "King Solomon & His 700 Wives: The Musical" and "Mel Schwartz Sleeps With Mae West." She’s married to Manny Silver, a cantor at Temple Beth El of Hollywood in Hollywood, Florida, who has played Mason sidekick Wooley the Schlepalong in Florida productions.
Reiter, who plans to sell buttons on opening night proclaiming, “I’m the yenta who saw this show,” says her musical is a lighthearted, not vengeful, exposé.
“I don’t feel bitter,” Reiter says. “I feel grateful that I had the experience, and even Sheba admires him from afar, she can’t help but adore him because he’s a genius.”
"The Jackie Mason Musical: Both Sides of a Famous Love Affair"
WHEN | WHERE June 22-July 8, Studio Theatre Long Island, 141 S. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst
INFO $27; 631-226-8400, studiotheatreli.com