Category Archives: Improvisation

Bringing Practical Radio Theatre to Life.

It was the first time I performed in a comedy revue while wearing a bowtie.goodtimes 1975

I wore a faux bowtie t-shirt under my jacket for “Goodtimes” — my first-ever comedy revue in Cleveland in 1975. That’s me on the far right. I was still in high school. (In fact, my high school drama director, Mary Ann Zampino, is seated above me.) But, 43 years later, the bowtie was real.

steveAt the suggestion of our musical director Steve Rashid, in cahoots with Chicago FM jazz station WDCB, we took up the creative challenge of adapting what we’ve been doing in our popular holiday shows for an audience of radio listeners.

First — we scheduled shows on December 28 and 29, 2018 at Studio5 in Evanston, Illinois.

Then, two months before those curtains were scheduled to go up, Victoria Zielinski, Dana Olsen and I began the process of becoming The Practical Radio Theatre Company of the Air.

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Bag O’ Fun at Noyes Cultural Arts Center (1980)

The Practical Theatre has played a lot with comedy revue formats since our first improvisational comedy revue back in 1980 — but this was the first time we were having fun with the radio show format.

To begin the process, we focused on sorting through which of the sketches and songs in our repertoire would work best on the radio. Most PTC sketches feature a lot of words (some might say too many) — and the material we developed for The Vic & Paul Show and The Vic & Paul & Dana Show is particularly loquacious. So, that was good. Certain beats needed some tweaking, especially topical jokes that had to be updated, but it was creatively stimulating to take a fresh look at some of our favorite sketches.

One of the happiest re-discoveries was the revival of the “Marine Comedy” sketch, which made its summer of 1980 debut in the running order of Bag O’ Fun– the PTC’s first improv comedy revue. I play a boot camp drill sergeant leading a group of comedian cadets through their comic paces. The call and response of a veteran DI grilling his green troops lent itself well to radio. But keeping in mind that the live cabaret patrons aren’t the primary audience we must serve — how do you simulate a pratfall for the radio?

Questions like that lead to the biggest revelation in our writing and rehearsal process: the sound effects.

Of course, we agreed right away that we wanted to employ traditional hand-made radio show sound effects: the kind we remembered so fondly from the classic radio shows of the 1930’s and 40’s. (And no, we’re not thatold.) My dad, who was born in 1927, introduced me at an early age to the classic radio shows of his youth: classics like “Fred Allen’s Alley” and “Fibber McGee and Molly.” Fibber McGee’s closet – the quintessential old time radio sound effect – would not have been as famously funny in any other medium.

set up danielSteve Rashid’s son, Daniel, embraced the critical job of making the sound effects come alive. Daniel’s a fine young actor — and he’s also a drummer. That’s good. Radio sound effects punctuate moments in the sketches like drum fills in a song. Plus, the gig requires imagination and ingenuity – and Daniel showed plenty of both. As everyone came up with more ideas for sound effects, Daniel’s SFX job grew and grew and…

With about a month to go before opening night, we began to develop some sketches specifically for radio, including two episodes of “Fred Knoblock: Secret President” — a retro radio mystery about a former Walmart greeter pressed into service as a body double for a thinly disguised Mango Mussolini.

For the past few years, we’ve normally featured a corps of dancers in our revues – and Victoria insisted that we include a dance number in the show. But how do you perform dance on the radio?

rehearse sfx team 2Dana came up with a script that evolved into one of the show’s freshest and funniest sketches — in which Daniel and his brother (also a drummer) put thimbles on all their fingers and became a tap dancing troupe breaking out show-stopping moves. It became the sound effects highlight of the show.

As occupied as we were with the creation and execution of all the sound effects, another vital radio show element never troubled me: the music.  That’s because maestro Steve Rashid was in charge, and the band he assembled was first class.

show jim & robertSteve was on keys, of course, as well as harmonica and trumpet. His Studio5 All-Stars were composed of the great Don Stiernberg on guitar and mandolin, the flawless Jim Cox on upright bass, and Steve’s son Robert on drums and percussion. (Tap-dancing thimbles, too!)

Among the musical wonders Steve performed were the composition of theme music for the show, Practical Radio Theatre On The Air, and all the shows within the show, including “Middle Aged Jeopardy”, “Fred Knoblock: Secret President” and “This Old Man”.
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We also brought in two more musical ringers: vocalists Paul Marinaro and Eva B. Ross. Paul is a Chicago jazz favorite with a rich, dynamic voice that makes the Great American Songbook come alive. Eva is an up and coming singer-songwriter who shares Steve and Paul’s passion for jazz.

Whether singing solo or in duet, Paul and Eva gave us two more musical aces in the hole.

set up overhead 2So, on the day after Christmas 2018, we returned to the familiar cabaret confines of Studio5 to prepare for a presentation that was not at all familiar to us. We had just two days to set up the sound and lighting and stage the material we’d developed over the previous two months.

Luckily for us, we had audio master Sam Fishkin handling the complex task of not only making sure that the cabaret audience could hear everything – but recording it all for the radio, too. And making the lighting of the show seem effortless, as usual, was Charlotte Rathke. It’s a joy to work with two pros that do beautiful work and never miss a cue– especially when so much of what you’re about to do onstage is new for everyone involved.

I’ve often said that The Practical Theatre Company is like Brigadoon, the mythical village in the classic Broadway musical. We appear for a brief time – and then we vanish. What follows are some glimpses into the process and performances that brought Practical Radio Theatre On The Air to life over four magical days in Evanston. (Many of these photos were taken by guest vocalist Paul Marinaro — a man of many talents.)

Early on the first day in Studio5. Don Stiernberg practices on guitar while Steve Rashid steadies the ladder for Sam Fishkin, who is hanging microphones. Robert Rashid and Eva B. Ross hang out in the audience while Victoria Zielinski practices her lines in from of Daniel Rashid’s sound effects tables.

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Some critical sound effects props. Note the horn and siren whistle. Vic and Dana and I used these two items to censor our profane words in real time. The damn horns could be really funny — but often misbehaved. The siren whistles were more dependable fun. Get one for yourself and see!

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Early rehearsal on the second day. You’ll note that Charlotte’s lighting plan is underway. With our backs to her work most of the time, we had no idea what Charlotte achieved until we saw the photos later. It was a very pleasant surprise too see how good she made everything look.

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Another view of rehearsal. Sam (at left) listens as Dana, Victoria and I work our way from sketch to sketch, while Charlotte (who can be seen way back in the upper right) dials in the visual splendors of her lighting plot.

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Steve goes through his script during rehearsal. He had a ton of music cues, a band to lead, two guest vocalists to work with, his own songs to perform — and very little time.

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Daniel Rashid and his lovely assistant, Eva B. Ross, work on the sound effects for “This Old Man” — firing up a circular saw and a belt sander. Kids, don’t try this one at home!

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Dress rehearsal in the hours before opening night. See? I’m wearing a bowtie!

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Another pre-opening moment — this time with a glimpse of Jim Cox playing the upright bass (upper left) which is just about the coolest instrument that exists. Note the upside-down bicycle (at right). The bike was used to simulate the motorcycle Dana rode onstage. How? A very old trick: baseball cards in the spokes.

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The cast gathers just before going onstage for the first show. Paul Marinaro (bottom left) is taking the selfie — and why not? The dude’s way more than 6-feet tall! He sounds even taller when he sings.

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A shot from the house as the audience begins taking their seats for opening night. In the background, Daniel and Eva go over some last-minute sound effects notes.

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You can tell by the audience in the foreground that the first show is underway.  We enjoyed two sold-out, overflow shows in the 150-seat Studio5 cabaret theatre. Radio shows work best with a lively, smart and enthusiastic live audience. Our audiences were all of that and more on both nights.

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A view of opening night from the wings. I like these black and white pics (shot by Paul Marinaro) because they look like they might have been taken in the 1950s or early 60s.

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Guest vocalist Eva B. Ross performs on opening night.

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Daniel and Eva, his lovely assistant, perform sound effects for “This Old Man”. Eva runs the belt sander to approximate the sound of an electric generator — as Daniel blows bubbles to indicate a pump at work.

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Maestro Steve Rashid in control at the grand piano. Note the socks. Steve is clearly a jazz guy.

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Eva B. Ross and Dana perform “Baby It’s Cold Outside” — with Dana singing in Norwegian.

Fun after the show.

Cast and crew photo at load out on the day after the second show.

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Just One Week Until Practical Radio Theatre Opens at Studio5 in Evanston!

Radio Art 2In just one week, The Practical Theatre will be back in the Chicago are with a classic radio show featuring grown-up comedy and great live music! Plus adult beverages! Join the fun as the PTC records two shows at Studio5 Performing Arts Center in Evanston for later broadcast on Chicago’s premier jazz station WDCB 90.9 FM.

There are just 2 shows: Friday December 28 and Saturday the 29th. Tickets are now on sale at Brown Paper Tickets. Click here for ticket info and reservations.

Radio Show Poster #2Practical Radio Theatre on the Air is a radio show format filled with high spirits, satire and song, featuring writer-performers Victoria Zielinski, Paul Barrosse and Dana Olsen with music by Steve Rashid and his Studio5 All-Stars, and special appearances by Studio5’s favorite singer Paul Marinaro, recording artist Eva B. Ross, and Giggle Break’s Daniel Rashid.

The Studio5 All-Stars are Steve Rashid (keyboards), Don Stiernberg (guitar), Jim Cox (bass) and Robert Rashid (drums).

Join the live audience and be an integral part of the show, sipping a smart cocktail in the comfort of the North Shore’s most intimate performance venue, located at Dempster and Dodge in Evanston — with acres of free parking!

SingersIt’s another holiday happening to remember!

Doors open for cocktails at 7:30. Showtime is 8:00.

Friday night’s performance begins with an opening set of songs by Paul Marinaro. On Saturday night Eva B. Ross opens the show. But the fun begins as soon as you get there!

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Tickets Now On Sale for “Practical Radio Theatre On The Air”

Radio Art 4The Practical Theatre is back in the Chicago area with a classic radio show featuring grown-up comedy, great live music and ingenious handmade sound effects! Plus adult beverages! Join the fun as the PTC records two shows at Studio5 Performing Arts Center in Evanston for later broadcast on Chicago’s premier jazz station WDCB 90.9 FM.

There are just 2 shows: Friday December 28 and Saturday the 29th. Tickets are now on sale at Brown Paper Tickets. Click here for ticket info and reservations.

SingersPractical Radio Theatre on the Air is a radio show format filled with high spirits, satire and song, featuring writer-performers Victoria Zielinski, Paul Barrosse and Dana Olsen with music by Steve Rashid and his Studio5 All-Stars, and special appearances by one of Studio5’s favorite singers, Paul Marinaro, recording artist Eva B. Ross, and Giggle Break’s Daniel Rashid having fun with those handmade sound effects.

DanielRashidHeadshot1Friday night’s performance begins with an opening set of songs by Paul Marinaro. On Saturday night Eva B. Ross opens the show. But the fun begins as soon as you get there!

The Studio5 All-Stars are Steve Rashid (keyboards), Don Stiernberg (guitar), Jim Cox (bass) and Robert Rashid (drums).Band

Join the live audience and be an integral part of the show, sipping a smart cocktail in the comfort of the North Shore’s most intimate performance venue, located at Dempster and Dodge in Evanston — with acres of free parking!

It’s another holiday happening to remember!

Doors open for cocktails at 7:30. Showtime is 8:00.

Radio Art 2

Studio5 calendar:
Brown Paper Tickets:

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Holiday Fun Comes to Evanston: Practical Radio Theatre On The Air!

Radio Show Poster #2The Practical Theatre is coming back to Chicago’s North Shore with a classic radio show featuring grown-up comedy and great live music! Plus adult beverages! Join the fun as the PTC records two shows at Studio5 Performing Arts Center in Evanston for later broadcast on Chicago’s premier jazz station WDCB 90.9 FM.

VPD_-0009_High_ResFollowing their smash holiday engagements the past two years at Studio5, writer-performers Victoria Zielinski, Paul Barrosse and Dana Olsen return with Practical Radio Theatre on the Air, featuring music by Steve Rashid and his Studio5 All-Stars, with special appearances by Giggle Break’s Daniel Rashid and recording artist Eva B. Ross.

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Eva B. Ross

Practical Radio Theatre on the Air is a classic radio show format filled with high spirits, satire and song.Join the live audience and be an integral part of the show, sipping a smart cocktail in the comfort of the North Shore’s most intimate performance venue. Studio5 Performing Arts Center, located at Dempster and Dodge in Evanston, features comfy seating, great sight lines, state of the art sound and lights — and acres of free parking!

DanielRashidHeadshot1

Daniel Rashid

It’s another holiday happening to remember!

There are just 2 shows: Friday December 28 and Saturday the 29th. Tickets are on sale at Brown Paper Tickets.

There will be a cash bar for both shows. Doors open for cocktails at 7:30. Showtime is 8:00.

Each night’s performance begins with an opening set of songs by Eva B. Ross before the radio show gets underway — but the fun begins as soon as you get there!Studio5+Seats+Eva

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Your hosts at Studio5: Impresarios Bea & Steve Rashid

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The Practical Theatre Company: Scenes from the Early Days on Howard Street

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The front window of 703 Howard Street, painted by John Goodrich. Winter of 1980-81.

sc0000c1b2Practical Theatre member Reid Branson (AKA “Reedo”) sent me this cool stash of photos from the very first days and months on Howard Street in the winter of 1980-81 — when the 42-seat John Lennon Auditorium was under construction. Reid took the photos and his wife, Kathy Hahn, made the photochemical magic happen in the darkroom. That’s Reid in the photo above left — in character as Reedo Branson, the PTC’s street theatre candidate for President in 1980. Since we hadn’t built the theatre yet, all of us kids had to play in the street. (It’s the only photo in this post that I took.)

And now, here are the rare early JLA photos from Reid and Kathy…

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(L to R) Brad Hall, the author & Rush Pearson — with evidence of theatre construction and band rehearsal in the background. We got a lot of use out of 703 Howard Street even before the John Lennon Auditorium was finished.

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Rush Pearson (Left) and a guitar player whose name I don’t recall. (Sorry, sir!)  The stage has yet to be built — but there’s a stack of plywood against the wall. The Chicago Theatre Festival banner came by way of Rush, who had been a member of the Festival’s street theatre company.

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Looking toward Howard St., the author is in silhouette — and the seating framework is just starting to take shape. We did all the construction work ourselves, guided by the theatre’s designer, the late, great Louis DiCrescenzo. Work proceeded slowly for two reasons: none of us were great carpenters & we had to raise money in fits and starts to buy lumber and materials.

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Another angle on the construction of the 42-seat auditorium. The author can be seen in the background wearing headphones (yes, they had them back then) — and you’ll note some sort of play-pen or crib on the floor in front of me. So, what’s in that crib?

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It’s my infant daughter, Maura. She was born in July of 1980 (the same month that the storefront at 703 Howard Street was leased and dedicated) so she’s around 6 or 7 months at the time this photo was taken in the lobby of the unfinished JLA. Lucky for me, Maura was a patient, good-natured baby who seemed to thrive amid the creative chaos of those early PTC days.

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Taped to the wall is the poster for “Thrills & Glory”, designed by cast member Gary Kroeger. “Thrills & Glory” (which also starred Reid Branson, Rush Pearson and yours truly) was the first show to be performed in the completed John Lennon Auditorium. We had to work like demons to get the theatre ready for the show’s opening on March 21, 1981. We never lacked for confidence.

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It looks as though the theatre seats (donated by nearby Wisdom Bridge Theatre and its director, Bob Falls) have been installed – though the stage and “the monolith” have yet to take shape. That looks like PTC member Al Leinonen at right. The little ceramic chap to his left, wrapped in odd garments is our mascot, Sri Abdul Aziz, whose unblinking eyes watched over the theatre.

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Another angle on Al, looking toward the house and those 42 magical seats. Behind Al, Sri Abdul Aziz gazes at the auditorium in wonder. Atop Sri’s head is the hat I wore as Infra-Death in the 1980 Mee-Ow Show. I hope that Al isn’t holding an umbrella because the roof is leaking…

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PTC member Herb Metzler naps in the foreground, as Brad, the author and Rush work out a tune in the lobby of the theatre. It doesn’t appear as though the box office as been built yet. But, heck, we’re writing a show — and there will eventually be a finished theatre to perform it in!

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This appears to be a gathering of Sturdy Beggars, including (L to R) Rush, Jamie Baron, Danny Deuel, Herb, Jeff Semmerling (?), the author and Brad. Perhaps it’s an early “Thrills & Glory” preview, maybe a break in construction work — or just another opportunity to party.

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Casey Fox, Brad and Gary Kroeger — most likely at a “Thrills & Glory” rehearsal. Casey shot short comedy films for the show, Brad did his best to provide some direction — and Gary (the lone beardless cast member) played all the female roles. Ours was a very Elizabethan approach. Not.

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Portrait of the author as a young theatre builder. I loved that storefront. Still do.

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A Comic Celebration to Remember!

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For two frigid but otherwise fun and fulfilling weeks on Chicago’s North Shore, the cast and crew of “Mr. Olsen’s Champagne Celebration” staged a series of shows that rang in the New Year with satire, song and classic comic shtick. The three packed performances proved once again that The Practical Theatre Company and its motto “Art is Good” are alive and well in the Windy City.

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The Practical Theatre is like “Brigadoon” these days: a magical, fleeting moment of entertainment that vanishes as suddenly as it appears. For those of you who were not able to be among the receptive crowds that gathered at Studio5 in Evanston to witness this rare theatrical event – please enjoy the following photos, taken by former Chicago Tribune photographer Chuck Osgood at final dress rehearsal.

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The Opening Number: “It’s been a year to remember — to forget!”

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“Ed & Ellen & Ned” — Ed (Paul Barrosse) & Ellen (Victoria Zielinski) and Ned (Dana Olsen) share a moment in an airport bar with a young man (Daniel Rashid) who digs older women.

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Eva B Ross sings “Thou Swell” backed by Steve Rashid (keys) & The Studio5 All Stars: Rockin’ Ronny Crawford (drums), Joe Policastro (bass), Don Stille (accordion) and Don Stiernberg (guitar)

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“Limbo” — A bickering couple (Vic & Dana) find themselves in a state of suspended afterlife.

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“Parents” — Dana and Shelly Goldstein play parents with a lot of good (and not so good) advice for their high school graduate, bound for Northwestern University.

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“Please Come to Starbucks” — Paul is a forlorn, lovesick guy from Cleveland who lost his girl (Vic) to the Southern California dream. He seeks her out in a mournful musical complaint.

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“Stop Talking About Him” — A young couple (Daniel Rashid & Emilia Barrosse) struggle with the nagging, negative, inescapable influence of Donald Trump on their relationship.

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“Cut In Line” — This is the moment that an unlucky guy (Paul) discovers that the guy to whom he just gave his place in line (Dana) is the 1,000,000th customer and winner of a million dollars!

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The Mr. Olsen’ Dancers perform “We’re In The Money”

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Dana & Eva perform a multi-lingual duet of “Let it Snow” — just before it goes way off the rails.

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With sexual harassment dominating the news, the dancers make a statement.

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Don Stille burns up his accordion solo in “The Possible Side Effects Polka”

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The Mr. Olsen Dancers step lively in “The Possible Side Effects Polka”

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Emilia Barrosse opens the second act with an original stand-up comedy set.

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“Ed & Elena” — Ed (Paul) is about to get a big surprise from buxom blonde Elena (Vic).

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Steve Rashid performs a nostalgic musical tribute to George W. Bush — with beautiful, inspirational music by Steve and indescribable words by Dubya himself.

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The Mr. Olsen Dancers kick up a wild western rumpus.

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“Whisky Tasting” — Miss Vicky’s hootch has finally gotten the best of Paul’s boozing cowpoke.

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Groovy Shelly sings “The Middle Aging of The Age of Aquarius”

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“Meet the Robot” — Guess who’s coming to dinner? Your daughter’s synthetic human boyfriend, that’s who.

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A proper 19th Century minuet gets a bit topsy-turvy.

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Roland Masterton (Paul) and Elizabeth Cuddleton (Vic) share a long, long, long developing romance a’la Jane Austen — through correspondence, shipwreck, and a mortal duel .

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Donald J. Trump meets “Hamilton” in a rap production number. “How does a bastard, orange, TV show host with a toupe’, dropped in the middle of a polarized time in our America — with hands so freaking teeny — rise up to be the Mango Mussolini?”

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“What’s you name, man?” “Inmate number 45!”

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The Closing: “Resist! Resist! — and keep your sanity. Do your best, it’s a test — of our humanity.”

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Just Two More Chances to Enjoy “Mr. Olsen’s Champagne Celebration”!

26114583_1533547770095784_2100298101981055015_oThere are only two more opportunities to enjoy the funniest and most fun New Year’s party on Chicago’s North Shore: tonight and New Year’s Eve.

(All photos in this post were taken by Chuck Osgood at the final dress rehearsal)

26114696_1533549313428963_9163814806155948867_oYou still have a chance to reserve your seats for Mr. Olsen’s Champagne Celebration at Studio5 in Evanston.

Tickets are on sale here!

The Practical Theatre returns with another entertaining comedy and music revue featuring veteran improvisational comedy writer-performers Victoria Zielinski, Paul Barrosse and Dana Olsen. It’s a fun-filled party in the style of The Lawrence Welk Show, filled with laughter, satire and song.

26060201_1533549290095632_162225552277657537_oJoining the cast are the PTC’s musical director, Steve Rashid, songbird Eva B. Ross, standup comic Emilia Barrosse, Giggle Break’s own Daniel Rashid, cabaret chanteuse Shelly Goldstein — and the Studio5 All-Star Band, including Rockin’ Ronny Crawford on drums, Don Stille on accordion, bassist Joe Policastro and Don Stiernberg on guitar. Plus percussionist Robert Rashid.

26197980_1533549580095603_7893809850602960003_oAnd — The Mr. Olsen Dancers are back – and better than ever!

The show on New Year’s Eve will be followed by live music and a fabulous dance party — as we invite you all to swing into the New Year! (And enjoy tasty food, too!)

Studio5 is Evanston’s hippest, most intimate performing arts venue, with comfortable seats, great sight lines, state of the art sound and lights, and acres of free parking. Tickets are on sale here!

There will be a cash bar for both shows. Doors open for cocktails at 7:30.

Don’t miss your last chance to join the biggest party of the year! 26172349_1533549093428985_9201868929486565217_oPoster 2017 NYE #6

 

 

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