The Company Company keeps busy these days, having just wrapped up She Loves Me with the Village Playhouse and currently drowning (knee-deep? up to their necks?) in their production of the social satire Urinetown: The Musical. By utilizing the chorus ensemble from that play, Producing Director Bill Schlitt has managed to put together an exciting line-up for the Piccolo performances of his signature show, The Good Time Variety Hour.
Most easily compared to Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, the one-hour show features singing, dancing, magic, and storytelling. Schlitt grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River in Missouri and draws on his nostalgia for the riverboats of the 19th century that prowled the waters with "comics, singers, beautiful women, jugglers, and magicians."
"A lot of what we do had its roots in the earliest days of American music theater," says Schlitt. "Even the early days of 20th century music theater and early television shows like Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, and The Smothers Brothers were variety shows, tied together with the thinnest of stories."
Fulfilling the Company Company's mission of "creating community through the arts," Variety Hour draws on many local talents to piece together an hour of entertainment. Laura Ball, a local singer and dancer who Schlitt compares to Audrey Hepburn, will perform, as well as the young Addison Roper, who recently impressed crowds in Charleston Stage's production of Ragtime. Kirk Sprinkles, a recent transplant to Mt. Pleasant, will bring his dance troupe to grace the stage while Schlitt and Laura Ball sing a selection from The Phantom of the Opera. "The piece is really beautiful and evocative," says Schlitt. "Kirk's got some serious Broadway chops."
South Carolina's only singing magician, Ellory native Russell Anderson, is on the bill, as is the star of Urinetown, comic/actor Jamie Smithson. The Good Time Variety Hour Band plays throughout, and the Urinetown chorus will perform an ensemble piece from the musical. Each Variety Hour ends with a segment called "Ain't That the Schlitts," Bill's rambling, comedic tales of growing up in a big Midwestern family, after which he invites the audience to sample his "Schlitt's Super Salsa," complete with witticisms and poems on the jars available to take home. "I believe that one must try to reach the audience through as many of the senses as possible," says Schlitt. "Always give them more than they expect."
The Good Time Variety Hour is clearly a labor of love for the Company Company. Schlitt's wife, Broadway pianist Maida Libkin, leads the band, and their tap-dancing daughter Joanna always makes an appearance. "We want to give people a chance to shine and develop their talent," says Schlitt. His show harkens back to entertainment's roots and foundation while doing just that. —Stratton Lawrence
THE GOOD TIME VARIETY HOUR • Piccolo Spoleto Theatre Series • $17, $15 seniors/students • (1 hour) • May 26, 27, June 2, 3 at 1 p.m.; May 28, June 9 at 3 p.m. • Village Playhouse Theatre, 730 Coleman Blvd. • 554-6060