REVIEW: Acker and Blacker’s Thrilling Adventure Hour brings Old Time Vibe to New Crowd

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Writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker team up with recurring players (Samm Levine, James Urbaniak and many more) and special guests like Nathan Fillion, Wil Wheaton, David Foley, Lake Bell every month for The Thrilling Adventure Hour, a radio days-style broadcast performed live on stage at Largo’s Coronet Theater in Los Angeles.

The Basics

Acker and Blacker have created a truly one of a kind experience in Los Angeles.  Assembling a revolving team of comics, voice actors and performers with a live band (The Andy Paley Orchestra) and then supplying them with an hour’s worth of scripted pages for a radio drama.

What?  …radio drama, what-what?  Imagine back to the 1920s when there were radio serials, sound-only stories that poured out of your radio.  That’s what this is, only on stage in front of an audience. The cast dresses the part (1920’s-ish garb) and some of the audience even joins in the costumed fun.

Hidden away at the Largo’s Coronet theater, The Thrilling Adventure Hour is perfectly at home.  As you pass through the gates, you enter a unique setting.  It feels miniatured and whimsical, like a grown up-themed Disneyland.

As the Curtain Opens

James Urbaniak steps out for an audience introduction, a tongue-in-cheek explanation of what we’re about to see.  His voice, which is famous — you’ve heard it many times on TV and in movies — you just don’t know it, is both comfortable and beyond quirky.  Really, those two words may end up summing up the evening: comfortable and quirky.

Chapter One

The first segment is a western-based serial with some aliens mixed in, starring Marc Evan Jackson, Mark Gagliardi and Annie Savage.  Not for lack of trying, but their energy quickly dwindles into a bloated plot.  There’s no leader in the cast nor the pages.

But as supporting characters arrive, they bring personality and zeal.  John DiMaggio is the first dazzle of the evening.  A showstopper, his energy fills the room and his multiple voices hit the marks.  His voice stretches from character to character in a study of focus.  But watching him work tells us he loves every moment, syllable and breath.

Next up, Samm Levine’s Prof. Genius.  The voice he creates is memorable yet beyond decibels.  In a spin-off his character could be a lead villain in which Levine might relish.

One of the remarkable parts of the show is letting your eyes wander. Since all performers as well as the orchestra are on-stage, the magic literally unfolds before your eyes.  Feel the musical instruments pluck and whistle.  The musicians watch the actors, waiting for the exact moment. The timing of it all,  ‘cuz it’s live, folks.  Ain’t no take two!

Hobos, Trains an’ Damsels

Guest star Lake Bell is the surprise of the second segment.  Story follows two hobos travelling the train tracks until they stumble upon a city with some very interesting traditions.  Bell is a resident of this crazy town.  We’ve seen her play the beautiful ditz before, but (and I mean this in a good way) she brings a different angle to that character this evening.  Watching her eyes work through the scene and wringing her arms with palpable tension.

Surrounded by Craig Cackowski and Hal Lublin, Bell holds her own.  You can sense her restraining herself, which brings more detail to her craft than we usually see from her.  Dare it be said, Bell sparkles on the stage, without pacing restrictions and camera, editing.

End it Big!

Without a doubt, the best segment is the last.  For those whom are unfamiliar with Paul F. Tompkins, do your homework immediately.  Learn him.  He deserves your time.

On-stage couple Tompkins and Paget Brewster soak in a lavender-scented bath of great chemistry.  If they were a couple, you’d want to be invited to their dinner party.  While the plot needs to progress, you kind of just want to hang out with them.

Andy Daly’s arrival needs to be strong enough to contend with Tompkins and Brewster; and it does.  Together the threesome embark on a sly journey which we hope will conclude with the “wink and a smile” vibe it began on.

The story follows the horrific childhood version of the now grown men with a fatal visit to a crafty old clown.  A sigh of relief is had when Urbaniak returns front and center as “Nightmares the Clown”, the children’s evil nemesis.  Between Tompkins and Urbaniak, you want them to aim for the bleachers and hit a homerun!  Do they?  Well, come see the next show.

Highlights of the evening: James Urbaniak, John DiMaggio, Lake Bell, Paul F. Tompkins, Paget Brewster.  The price of admission is worth their presence alone in this tasty stew.

Thrilling Adventure Hour probably is a risky first date, because if you don’t know that your babydoll will like the feel of the event, it could be a long evening.  But it’d be a fantastic 2nd date.  And if she doesn’t dig it, dump her.

On October 2, 2010 The Thrilling Adventure Hour continues.  You should be there.  In addition to the tireless WorkJuice players many of whom were mentioned above, special guests will include: Juliet Landau (Buffy), Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica), Gillian Jacobs (Community), Justin Kirk (Weeds), Toby Huss (Cowboys and Aliens), and some surprises.

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