New to Longview, Jonah Fa’amuli was exploring Commerce Avenue in September when he spotted a sign in a window:
ATTENTION! The Stageworks Mondo Follies Needs You!!
He’d been jonesing for theater, so Fa’amuli tried out.
Jeannie Choi saw a notice on Facebook that Stageworks Northwest was looking for variety acts. She had been in a small part in one Stageworks show, and was eager for more.
Courtney Packard said her mom urged her to audition after bringing home a Stageworks brochure from Go 4th.
The three newcomers are part of the 14-member cast of the “Mondo Holiday Follies,” a family-friendly evening of music, dance and comedy conceived and directed by Johnny Winningham. The show opens tonight at Stageworks and runs weekends through Dec. 12.
“‘Mondo’ is a cross between ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,’ ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’ and ‘America’s Got Talent,’ put into a blender for 30 seconds and served to an unsuspecting audience,” Winningham said.
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The playfully self-absorbed host is Shecky DuBois, a show-business legend in his own mind — and Winningham’s alter ego.
“Shecky is actually a cautionary tale for those wanting to get into the field of entertainment,” Winningham said. “Over his long career Shecky has fled from one club to the next, all over the world, and now he finds himself in Longview. Shecky is a true ‘people person’ with a heart of gold but with the intellectual depth of a kids’ wading pool.”
Winningham, a seasoned actor/director and former stand-up comedian, has produced and directed nine previous “Mondo” shows during his career, each of them unique. He doesn’t want to give away any of the surprises in store for audiences, but they will see comedy, dance, and musical acts. There’s a sense of old-time vaudeville, but the show has a modern twist.
Other members of the cast are Peter Curtis, Ethan Feider, Kevin Haddenham, Frits Kaan, Pip Kennedy, Joey LeBard, Lorraine Little, Steve McElhinny, Michael McElliot, Robert Mumford, Leslie Slape, Josh Warwick, Marissa Wilcox and Adam Wolfer. Clarance Knutson is musical director. Members of the house band, “The Mondo Tones,” include Bill Comin, Dan Monares and Shannon McLain. Jake Rohrbach is stage manager.
Packard, who moved here from Idaho, will sing “Grown-Up Christmas List” by David Foster and Linda Thompson-Jenner. She spends her offstage time working on her master’s in visual communications, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to sing. “I’ve been singing since before I was born — my mom went into labor directing a 300-voice children’s choir.”
New York native Choi moved here from Hawaii, and has found her voice through writing. Her book “Schizo in Love” is available on Amazon. When she saw “poets” on the list of acts wanted for “Mondo,” she said, “I wrote a poem then and there.” It closes Act I.
As for Fa’amuli, 26, he grew up “a bullied kid” in the greater Vancouver area. His father insisted he play football, even though he felt drawn to the arts. Once he finally got the chance to do theater, “I used the emotions from the past and put it into the performance.”
At auditions, he spontaneously offered an original rap about love and kindness, and was surprised that Winningham unhesitatingly told him, “It’s in the show.”
Fa’amuli said he hopes that audiences will come away from “Mondo” with good feelings about the holiday season.
“I run into Scrooges every day,” he said. “I hope they would have a change of heart like Scrooge did. When they’re being together with family, just spreading the love, the world can be a better place. Just look at the light.”