This weekend’s family-friendly affair by Jessica Hilo
This vaudeville-inspired musical returns to Santa Barbara with—what else—Pazzazz!
It took the death of a parent to reunite vaudeville comedians Lew Fields and Joe Weber the last time. This time around it’s the magic of producer Milt Larsen and composer Richard Sherman.
Larsen is best known for creating The Magic Castle, a private club in Hollywood that he built with his brother Bill for magicians. Larsen served as a writer and consultant for a number of television programs including Truth or Consequences. He earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006.
Along with his brother Robert, Richard Sherman created some of the most indelible music of the 1960s and beyond. His credits include Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book, and Charlotte’s Web.
This unlikely pairing, whose talented familial counterparts are, for reasons enough, tragically split, have found in each other creative kin. So it’s only natural that their take on a comedic team fraught with brilliance and controversy would have a rollicking, dazzling, and no-stalgic edge. (The creators are too eager to state that their period piece is far from nostalgia).
Two years after making its world premiere at the Granada Theatre, this glitzy brainchild of Larsen and Sherman has returned to Santa Barbara.
Make ‘Em Laugh
Though little is said of their influence today, comedy team Weber and Fields were champions of slapstick, knockabout comedy during the late 19th century. Their work inspired the comedic styles of Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges, and even Charlie Chaplin.
Best known as comedic alter-egos Mike and Meyer, Germanic caricatures of bulldog and lapdog types respectively, the team made waves on an emerging theatrical scene—one of few successful independent ventures. Their work, in spite of mounting pressures from musical syndicates, paved the way for independent producers like George M. Cohan (the King of Broadway).
Twenty years after their company was formed, Weber and Fields took over the Broadway Music Hall. Their shows were filled with songs, dance, comedy skits, and burlesque plays. The success of Weber and Fields was largely attributed to the host of talent by which they surrounded themselves; musical theater’s finest acts including, Lillian Russell, Fay Templeton, and Marie Dressler.
Though Weber and Fields were one of the top comedy acts in New York City by 1880, in-fighting marred their association. Weber and Fields were tortured by their brilliance. They created a spark that burned bright enough to change the theatrical world, but strong enough to ignite creative tensions. The team separated in 1904, appearing together occasionally in musical comedies and moving pictures. Their cantankerous feud was rumored to have inspired elements of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys.
Pazzazz!, however, promises to be a lighter production—capturing all the excitement and camaraderie of boyhood discovery without the jagged pill of adult remembrance. (And wouldn’t we all like to reimagine worlds in this way?)
The show is a brilliant, full-scale, and glamorous production of an imagined Vaudeville; one in which a meeting between George M. Cohan, Weber, and Fields carries the weight of history in the making.
Touting an ensemble cast in nearly 150 ornate costumes, put together by a team headed by Arlene Larsen (Milt’s wife), Pazzazz! is certainly this weekend’s family-friendly affair.
Pazzazz! The Musical premieres March 25-27 at the Lobero Theatre.