Sheba Mason caught the performing bug when she was just a toddler and was brought onstage at the end of a show written by her mother, Ginger Reiter.
The show tells the story of Reiter’s 10-year relationship with the stand-up comedian and actor Jackie Mason, who died in 2021 at age 93.
They met at a delicatessen in Florida soon after Reiter and her mother moved there from New Jersey. Her mother was a huge fan of his but Reiter “was just a girl from Jersey” who was taken by storm by the man with a huge personality, as her daughter describes it.
The relationship ended when Reiter had a baby, Sheba, whom Jackie never acknowledged.
Starting May 5, Sheba is playing a character based on her mother in “The Jackie Mason Musical” in West Milford.
Sheba, who tours the country as a stand-up comedian and runs Sheba’s Speakeasy in Manhattan, said she did not fully understand what her mother’s life as a single mother was like until she played her on stage.
”There’s an element of just fun to it” as well, she said.
Reiter is the playwright, composer and director of the show, which previously was performed off-Broadway in New York as well as in Florida and Chicago.
This is the first production by a community theater, the West Milford Players, which permits a larger cast. “To tell you the truth, I think they’re just as talented” as actors who have played the roles in professional productions, she said.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 with matinees at 2 p.m. May 13 and Sunday, May 14. All performances are at the West Milford Presbyterian Church, 1452 Union Valley Road.
Tickets are $22 and may be purchased in advance online at wmplayers.org. For information, call 973-697-4400.
Reiter, who lived in West Milford for two years before moving to Florida in the mid-1970s, said she happened to see a notice that the West Milford Players were accepting submissions and she sent in a few of her plays.
Erika Crocco, president of the West Milford Players, said the group found this show to be funny and intriguing.
She and Reiter had had several conversations before Reiter mentioned that she had lived in West Milford.
While people younger than 40 may not be familiar with Jackie Mason, “I do know that there’s a huge community out there that just loved him to death,” Crocco said.
She thought of Mason as a kind of crude, Rodney Dangerfield-type character. “I never realized this side of him ... that he had a sentimental side ... .”
Crocco is playing Mrs. Oliver, Ginger’s mother, in the show. She replaced another actor halfway through rehearsals.
Ian Wehrle, who plays Jackie, previously played the role in productions in Florida, off-Broadway and at Carolines comedy club in Times Square last November and December.
”He’s a really good Jackie Mason. When he walks on stage, people who know Jackie go, ‘Wow, he looks just like him,’ ” Reiter said.
Wehrle, who grew up in Scotch Plains, also is a composer and sound designer. He made his Broadway debut at age 13 in a musical version of “A Christmas Carol.”