By Bob Evans
“The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe” written by the tremendous trio, Ben Auxier, Brian Huther, and Seth Macchi, debuted at the KC Fringe Festival two years ago to sold out audiences as a 90-minute one-act, but after revision, additional characters and a new concept, the show guarantees roll in the aisle laughs, fun music, and the kind of zany comedy Kansas City audiences expect from the playwrights.
Guaranteed to knock-the-socks-off, the show tickles the funny bone from the opening notes of the score composed by Auxier and Huther. Once given to music director, Ryan McCall, the music took on its 1920s jazz and Vaudeville style. Auxier credits McCall for making the music so timely and well-suited for the story of two down and out Vaudevillians at the end of that era as talkies were overtaking the nation. Their careers mirrored that of Dainty June (from “Gypsy”) as audiences flocked to motion pictures and left Vaudeville houses empty.
The story centers on the down and out performer team, Lefty and Crabbe, as they struggle to decide what to do with their fading careers with only a nickle left between them. Just think of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy….that’s right Laurel and Hardy, the team of silent movies from the early 20s and you get the jist of the lead characters. Only, Lefty and Crabbe are comics and singers, and the leap from Vaudeville to silent movies scare the be jesus out of them. But, desperate people make desperate decisions.
“The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe” celebrates this Jazz Age on Hollywood comedies and delivers a solid story line of the people who wheeled and dealed in the star-making machine. The musical comedy has heart, soul, abundant laughs, crazy characters (gleaned from Hollywood icons of the era), and costumes appropriate for the time period. From the opening notes of the score, the audience is swept back to an earlier, simpler time and the carefree Jazz Age takes over.
The Living Room debuted “The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe” in its original Fringe Festival format. Now, lightning strikes again as The Living Room and director Rusty Sneary present the re-tooled production that shows that the original story had substance, but not has legs and a much smoother story-line, better music and orchestration, and a more abundant cast of characters to work among.
Genius casting brings “The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe” to Kansas City audiences and gives them the chance to see this knee-slapping buffoonery before it moves on to bigger and better venues. Hudgens and Macchi absolutely carry the show with their singing and acting. They are a joy to watch. The interaction and camaraderie amongst the cast sends electricity to the audience. Ott and Gleeson give reason to laugh at each of the multiple characters they play.
The cast is: Michael Hudgens as Lefty; Seth Macchi as Crabbe; Brian Huther as Gene; Mike Ott as Dougie Brownhouse, E.G. Swellington, Bandit, Casting Director, Writer #2, Fan #2, Doorman; Josh Gleeson as Announcer, Worksman, Nikels, Rocko, Mac Lloyd, Maxfield, Bartender, Janitor; Elise Poehling as Mrs. Farley, Rita, Lolo Carmichael, Fan #3, Bananas McFoster, Charlie; Ellen Kirk as Alice, Hoochie, Showbiz Mgillicutty, M. Rockfeld, Blanhe, Writer #1, Fan #1, Roger, Photographer; Molly Denninghoff as Evelyn Rose, Genevieve, Geraldine, Lillian, Reporter.
The production team is: Ellyn Calvert, stage manager; Catherine Mungai, production assistant; Regina Weller, production assistant/scenic artist; Ryan Mc Call, Eryn Bates, pianists; Kyra Weinberger, choreographer; David Kiehl, sound design; Lacey Pacheco, lighting designer; Nancy Robinson, costume designer; Shawnna Journagan, properties designer; Kyle Dyck technical director; Bradley J. Thomas, house and box office manager; Ben Auxier, poster design.
Overall, “The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe” spells hit in capital letters. This is the opening of a show from Kansas City that can go places and grow. Audiences need to be aware that even after the curtain calls, Brian Huther sings another song, one that should not be missed. And, in later versions as this show grows, expect to see his character expanded. There is not enough of Gene in this version.
Tags: The Living Room, “The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe”, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment