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Vaudeville returns to its roots at Alex

October 02, 2009|By Liana Aghajanian

“For those of you who have never heard us, your luck just ran out,” cornet player and leader of the Night Blooming Jazzmen Chet Jaeger said to roaring laughter as the Jazzmen kicked off the Alex Film Society’s 10th annual “Vaudeville Extravaganza” show at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

A packed house tapped toes and bobbed their heads to the Jazzmen’s applause-worthy renditions of Fats Waller’s “Crazy About My Baby” and “The Rose of Washington Square,” as they took the theater back to its vaudeville roots dressed in red shirts that read “I’m a Nightblooming Jazzmaniac.”

Along with the Jazzmen, the diverse show featured “Mathemagician” Arthur Benjamin, classical magician Dan Birch, impalement artist Larry Cisewski, and comedian and magician Chipper Lowell — a well-rounded cast of acts that pleased the viewing appetites of both young and old, and started the society’s season off with a bang.

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After the Jazzmen performed, complete with Jim Richardson playing two saxophones at once and Brad Roth rocking out on the banjo to spirited applause, Benjamin took the stage and stunned the crowd with his ability to calculate the squares of three- and four-digit numbers faster than the calculators of the three volunteers he pulled up from the crowd.

After creating a magic square using the birth date of a participant that stunned the crowd, Benjamin, who is also a mathematics professor at Harvey Mudd College, brought out his 10-year-old daughter Laurel, a crowd favorite, who then proceeded to solve a Rubik’s Cube in the span of time it took Benjamin to sing “Modern Major General” a cappella.

In a long-tail suit and slick back hair, Birch, who has had acting roles on “Quantum Leap” and “Columbo,” with his disappearing doves and classic magic tricks made the transition to classic vaudeville acts of days gone by, complete with turning a few well-trained birds into Cassandra, a white poodle who wowed the audience. The shocker of the night came with Cisewski and his assistant Ariana Cowen, whose daring yet traditional vaudeville stunt of knife throwing had the potential to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

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