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Three Stooges Slay St. Charles

From the harmonic "hello, hello, hello" at the opening curtain to the clarion call "For Duty and Humanity!!" to close the first act, and the slapstick justice of "Disorder in the Court" in Act 2, The Three Stooges: Live on Stage at the historic Arcada Theatre in far-west suburban St. Charles on Sunday was a satisfying laughfest and more for die-hard Stooges fans.

Far superior to three lamebrained chowderheads getting up there thinking they can do Three Stooges impressions, this cast delivered.

The stage show also transplanted the near-capacity crowd back to an age when vaudeville acts like the Stooges, as long as 100 years ago and even before radio, crossed the country and entertained the masses in theaters just like this. A little song-and-dance, a magic trick, and the tried-and-true slapstick genius of the Three Stooges kept a crowd of men, women and children of all ages entertained for nearly three hours.

This show is the latest iteration of an "interactive" revue originally performed at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in the mid-1990s. The St. Charles show, announced nearly a year ago, faced at least two cancellations this spring. Chicago summer festival producer and Arcada Theatre owner and impresario Ron Onesti said it was simply a timing issue with the booking arrangements. The show, produced by Knight Entertainment Group, is notably officially sanctioned by C3 Entertainment, caretakers of the Howard, Fine and DeRita estates, and is now firmly scheduled for several venues around the U.S.

The show's loose and original premise of trying to save the theater for financially busted Mr. Manny takes the audience to some of the exotic locales made famous in the 190 shorts the Stooges made for Columbia Pictures.

Chris Durmick as Moe Howard, Danny Roque as Larry Fine, and Andrew Pagana as Curly Howard have the live slapstick down just fine. Pagana was beaten in the finals by Will Sasso for the role of Curly in the Farrelly brothers' 2012 movie tribute to the boys. A special added attraction is Curly G (aka Brad Server) who really is a grandson of the Curly Howard. Also, October 22 would have been Curly's 115th birthday.

Curly G pulls his weight quite well as a cop, cowboy villain, waiter and bailiff. There's a lot of Curly in him, but it never intrudes on Pagana's centerstage bits.

Nick Santa Maria is great as the equivalent to Bud Jamison/Vernon Dent as Mr. Manny, the western town mayor, the German doctor and the judge. Ginger Pauley, wearing an evolved flapper look, is the show's comedy moll who, besides taking turns as a nurse, saloon dance hall girl, college teacher and showgirl in court, is featured in an early song extolling the virtues of her character, Peggy O'Neill. She wants to be in showbiz in the worst way, but has to leave because it's so expensive to live in the big city. "St. CHARLES?!" the Stooges shout in a classic double take. Larry also laments his plight with the sweet little number "It's Not Easy Being Larry."

Dialed way down from what the original show must have been, the "scenery" consists of an LED backscreen that depicts various sets. It's put to good use in the opening when a send-up of the Columbia Lady pounds the shadows of the inquisitive Stooges into submission with her torch. Canaries circling and chirping whenever one of the boys gets knocked out was a nice touch.

Absent early on, they got the famous sound effects synced, mostly, but when the sound went off well ahead of the gag, the actors just went for it. The audience didn't care. The principals caught the dialogue virus, forgetting the joke sequence when witness Curly was being questioned on the stand, but Santa Maria loudly threw it to them and they ad-libbed like pros and stayed with it until they got it.

In their tribute to "A Plumbing We Will Go," Curly and Larry stage left start a hilarious "tug of war" with a drain snake with Moe stage right. Finally, when a large animated bulge travels through giant industrial piping from right to left, together stage left (how'd they do that?) their leader's head pops up out of the "sink" and Curly declares "that big clog looks just like Moe!"

All the biggest and most famous lines were there. They performed "Swingin' the Alphabet" from Violent Is The Word For Curly, and Pagana was faithful and funny recreating much of the Maharaja scene from Three Little Pirates.

In the post-show Q&A, Server explained how Jerome (Curly) Howard was his mother's father, and obviously never met him. He was only 48 when he died in 1952. Not even told of his heritage until well into school, he was taught silence on the matter, and also never met Moe or Larry. Naturally, "Moe" and "Larry" introduced themselves.

Pal o' mine and Daily Herald Tri-Cities community columnist Dave Heun stayed on the case to get these tickets and we speculated the whole time what kind of crowd it would be. Onesti wasn't saying. Our 3:00 show was probably 85-90 percent filled and when we rolled by later during the second show, the parking lots looked full.

But the biggest revelation was the diversity in age of the audience. Another very rare sighting was the multitudes of women and young girls yukking it up, many in Three Stooges t-shirts. In the end, Onesti, nearly astonished at how many there were, brought all of the kids up on stage for photos and hellos. One of them had Curly down cold and another early teen went toe-to-toe with Moe. Hilarious.

It was fantastic to see new groups of parents schooling the kids in the subversive silliness and masterful slapstick the Three Stooges will continue to give us for generations to come.


Comments welcome.


Posted on October 24, 2018

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