tampabay.com

Comedian to return with new material

By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN
Published September 30, 2006


Legendary comedian Jackie Mason closed his latest solo Broadway show a year ago, and, as he puts together his next one, he's coming back to the Palace Grand in Spring Hill to do what has become a ritual with him: try out his new material on local audiences.

The shows will be Feb. 13, 14 and 15, and early reservations are strongly recommended.

Mason does the big venues between his Broadway gigs, but it's at the Palace Grand that he tests his new routines. His last visit was in January 2005, shortly before he opened previews of his own Freshly Squeezed at the Helen Hayes Theatre on March 8. It ran for an astonishing 172 performances, not bad for a fellow in his mid-70s.

Mason has told Palace Grand owners Nick and Sal Sessa that he's not comfortable trying out new stuff on people who are paying $81.25 or more to see his show. At the Palace Grand, though, the tickets go for $39.95, plus tax and tip, and include a buffet that's easily worth $25. That means you're getting Mason for $15, which he feels gives him leeway to lay an egg or two with a clear conscience.

I've seen his local show, though, and I didn't pick up on a clunker. He was terrific from start to finish, even though his jokes about the Sessas and the monotony of U.S. 19 might not make it to the Great White Way.

Examples: The plethora of Sessas running the place (they're up to 11 Sessas now) and his ride from a motel in New Port Richey up to Spring Hill.

"Every town around here is a block and a half long," Mason said. You don't know when you've left one and gotten to another, he said.

How do you locate the Palace Grand? "You go three Denny's and an IHOP and you're there. No matter where you want to go, it's on the highway," he said during his show at the grand opening of the Palace Grand nearly five years ago.

My mom and I recall that terrific line every time we drive past the Palace Grand.

Mason is, arguably, the biggest name that has ever played the Nature Coast scene. He has starred in 10 Broadway shows, seven of them solo stints written and conceived by Mason himself. He's been in movies (Caddyshack II, Chicken Soup) and has won a Tony Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, an Ace Award and an Emmy Award and has received a Grammy nomination. Way back when, he was a regular on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Mason, a former rabbi, (real name Jacob Moshe Maza) made the news again in late August, when he filed a lawsuit against Jews for Jesus for using his name and likeness in a recruiting pamphlet.

"While I have the utmost respect for people who practice the Christian faith, the fact is, as everyone knows, I am as Jewish as a matzo ball or kosher salami," he said in documents filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, according to news reports.

At age 75, his tongue is as sharp as his mind.

* * *

I've been to some unusual art shows, but this one is in a class by itself.

On Nov. 3, guitarist Dave Eichenberger is going to, um, unveil? present? reveal? release? a 50-volume set of hourlong CDs at the Progress Energy Art Gallery in New Port Richey, which is two doors down from the Richey Suncoast Theatre on Grand Boulevard.

Each of the 50 CDs is unique, just like an original painting. Eichenberger sees music as art and this project as a series of 50 separate creations. He was able to spend time doing them, in part, because of a state Artist Enhancement Grant he received earlier this year. (He's the only artist in Pasco County to get one of those grants this quarter, by the way.)

Those of us who attend Eichenberger's performances have grown to love his smooth, free-form layers of looping sound and appreciate his jazz improvisations and baroque and modern classical compositions. I have some of his recordings and also those of his former collaboration with classical flutist Misha Penton, and I listen to them when I want to relax and/or shut out the real world. There's nothing to compare. Really.

Each of the 50 CDs also has an original cover created by art center director Lia Gallegos and will sell for $26 each at the show.