The Empire strikes back

AS220's loose and lively revue
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  September 2, 2009

MUSIC_EMPIRE_main
Photo by Pam Murray
THE GANG'S ALL HERE: Trainor, Munslow, Goulis, Devine, Lynch, and Lohman.

The Empire Revue is a monthly event at AS220, happening every first Sunday at 8 pm, as predictably as political malfeasance and as reliably funny, only without the urge to strangle the perpetrators. It's only eight bucks, which is still cheaper than a movie, they like to remind us, and way cheaper than a trip to the Borscht Belt, they might add.This July marked their third anniversary. Yes, three years of variety show silliness that would have given Ed Sullivan a coronary, but that Steve Martin could appreciate.

A revue earlier this summer displayed a representative sample of their loosey-goosey humor. It started with a brief nontraditional wedding ceremony for two young women (Hannah Devine and Madeline Trainor), as a plant in the audience piped up: "It's unnatural! It's gross!"

Regulars Arthur and Edna, a gray-wigged couple played by Richard Goulis and Kate Lohman, are clipping coupons when the doorbell rings. "Cover your ankles," he says, before someone (Steve Lynch) enters, a multibillionaire who delightedly claims to be Arthur's long-lost son. (Goulis later returns as Bill Wood. The 76-year-old grouch from across Empire Street always complains about the loud music coming from AS220 and the fact that he knows what art is but they don't because they are, collectively, Satan.)

The above performers comprise the house comedy troupe, the Sparkling Beatniks. The MC holding things together at his keyboard is Keith Munslow. He's also leader of the house band, the Superchief Trio, with Pam Murray on trombone, John Cote on drums, and Tom Ferraro on guitar.

But wait, there's more! Short guest acts appear: A snappy swing dancing demo by Jennifer Srout and Daryl Begin. Mark Carter doing not only air guitar but convincing-sounding air drums. Spittin Images, comprised of Christopher Johnson and Lawrence Nunes, doing their "Brother Juice" routine, a faux commercial offering African-American courage, "barbershop talk in a bottle." And so forth.

After the show, Empire Revue founder and prime mover Munslow recalls how the mixed bag of monthly acts started in 2006. AS220 head honcho Bert Crenca asked him to come up with a regular vaudeville-esque show. Such had always been a tradition there, with the likes of Cabaret of the Oddly Normal and the Porkchop Lounge.

"There's always been a cabaret," he says. "And then it gets dropped, because people get cooked, or they go on to other things."

OK, but only once a month, he told Bert. It's work, and none of them would be making enough money to justify doing it more frequently. And also, he figured, they could rely on getting a decent house once a month.

"The first shows were really hairy, because we tried to keep the show moving, moving, moving, moving," Munslow says, adding that they also wanted to keep "the flavor of the show" upbeat. In other words, he tried to discourage singer-songwriters from performing their suicide numbers.

Being a musician himself, he's always had a hard time recruiting non-musician guest performers. But now they have a roster of 20 or 30 tried-and-true acts to draw from, and occasionally guest Beatniks — Steve Lynch was one who came and stayed as a regular. Munslow's nephew Eric Fulford, a founding member, is teaching in Japan right now but will return to the troupe in the winter.

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