The Road to Towanda: paved with hilarity by Paige Anderson
April 16, 2015
Flower City Vaudeville, a three-man troupe comprised of Ward Hartenstein, Ted Baumhauer, and Richard Hughson, wants desperately to impress a talent scout, hoping to play the American Legion Hall in Towanda. To that end, they devise a series of acts, alternately fretting, “Will they like it in Towanda?” and reassuring one another, “That will play well in Towanda!”
The show they create is a fast-paced, energetic mix of silliness, squabbling, clowning, acrobatics, synchronized juggling, sight gags, whipped cream flinging, unicycle jump rope, whip cracking, double-entendre, and singalongs, with a Shakespearean monologue and a mysterious fixation with macaroons thrown in for good measure.
The troupe invites (and occasionally demands) audience participation, and when they deem the audience’s laughter and clapping insufficient, the three have no qualms about supplementing it with a thunderous outpouring of prerecorded applause. The three quickly form and then disband what is probably one of the oddest musical trios of all time. Their feats of human ingenuity –one spins a lasso while playing “Home on the Range” on a kazoo, and another one picks up a glass and puts it on his head without touching it – are as impressive as they are hilarious. The travails of poor “Hobo Joe,” bedeviled by one mishap after another until he is only too happy to return to his lonely life riding the rails, is a particular delight.
All in all, they will like it in Ithaca! This family-friendly variety show is great fun and thoroughly entertaining.
The Road to Towanda: vaudeville at its best by Ross Haarstad
April 18, 2015
We’re a couple of decades or more into the new vaudeville now (and circus inflected theater… and even a burlesque revival.) All that’s old is new again! Which is a blessing indeed with this trio of vaudevillians from Rochester.
Be warned: the pre-show involves audience interaction. (Well, all the show does!) As someone who generally hates such moments, it makes utter sense when done with these gentlemen’s skill and verve.
The set-up is simple: the group has a new gig coming in Towanda (where they are “sophisticated”) and need to work on some new routines. Each performer has a persona, Ward Hartenstein plays the nominal leader (“the maestro”), Ted Baumhauser (bald with big spectacles) is the over-enthusiastic one, while Rich Hughson (derby and white beard) is generally a step behind, and oft-ignored. He also is semi-mute in the Harpo Marx tradition. (The Marx Brothers were the great recreaters of vaudeville shenanigans for the cinema.) Think of Flower City as somewhere between the Marx Bros. (less of the verbal wisecracking) and the Three Stooges (not so oafish), with a dollop of Prairie Home Companion.
Highlights include the catch phrase “oooh, macaroons”, a band of homemade instruments, a baton that also becomes a grab-hands stick, a juggling routine (all juggle) that becomes super-heated and complex when Ted, the most accomplished in circus skills, takes over (including the first time I’ve witnessed a “back of the neck” catch), and an extended skit about a hobo on the railways who visits the county fair, that keeps finding Rich being abused by the narrative.
Oh, and audience participation with whipped cream.
All in all its a breezy, never dull return to improvisational roots of Commedia with a totally American (and Upstate NY) accent.