Over the July 4th weekend I had the wonderfully ridiculous honor of directing Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in a brand new audio play performed at CONVergence—Minneapolis’ largest annual Science-Fiction convention. Laurel and Hardy hadn’t been in any new shows in a long time, but they seemed to have a great time being back on stage.
Of course, they weren’t really Laurel and Hardy, but were extraordinary voice talents, outlandishly nice guys and Convention Guests of Honor, Wally Wingert and Chuck McCann.
Chuck started out in the 1950s doing (among other voices) a dead-on Hardy imitation with Dick Van Dyke as Laurel on the Jack Paar show. Wally, who hails from my own adopted South Dakota, calls himself the man of 999 voices, has more credits than you can shake an IMDB page at, and most recently became the announcer for Jay Leno’s Tonight Show.
These guys are talented fellows and they had agreed to lend their voices to the annual Mark Time Awards radio show. We knew that the “mentor” and the “kid” had always wanted to work together so we wrote their favorite characters into the script. We got more than we bargained for. Along with Laurel and Hardy’s distinctive phrasings and pace, other voices showed up: Sidney Greenstreet, Alec Guinness, Paul Lynde and Sean Connery.
Something one will always notice about the best impressionists is that even though they are on mic using mostly their voices—they have to be physical. To find Hardy’s voice Chuck McCann couldn’t help but fiddle with an imaginary tie, and Wally Wingert kept checking for his imaginary bowler hat and scrunching up his face to let out a Laurel-like whimper.
The other thing I’ve noticed about the best impressionists is that they seem to be a generation behind. Chuck is much more comfortable mimicking Jack Benny and the 30s-40s radio talents and movie stars of his youth, while Wally goes for Jack Nicholson and the icons of his boyhood. It’s probably because young ears are the most impressionable. Get it, impressionable.
We had a blast and I think the audience did, too. So, how does one direct wonderful talents like Chuck and Wally? Five words – Get Out of the Way (and let all those voices shine.)
Villains On Parade makes it’s broadcast debut on KFAI-FM radio in Minneapolis on July 25, 2010 and will be available in the ZBS.com catalogue this fall.
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