Parodying Mt. Airy, Weavers Way and More in NPR-Like Show
"Mount Airy Home Companion," an original piece, will be performed Sunday at Allens Lane Art Center.
Jim Harris has gotten used to writing parodies lately.
The Saint Mad vocalist and guitarist, whose group has been performing around the area at Roxborough's First Friday at Crossroads Coffeehouse and at Mt. Airy locations like Walk a Crooked Mile Books for some time now, started writing them for the band's shows as a way to mix things up a little bit. He wrote one about a recent election and started peppering the band's performances with little skits along the way.
Harris' experience doing so planted a thought in the band's collective mind.
"We said, 'Maybe we should put on a bigger show, something formal,'" Harris said at his Germantown home this week.
Enter "Mount Airy Home Companion." Based off of Garrison Keillor's popular NPR show "A Prairie Home Companion," the show will feature musical parodies and skits that poke fun at Mt. Airy and all of its characteristics.
It will be held at Allens Lane Art Center Sunday at 7 p.m. and will feature three Northwest Philadelphia actors as well as other people from around the area. Walk a Crooked Mile owner Greg Williams will sing in the show as well.
Harris, for his part, went to Holy Cross School in Mt. Airy growing up and lived in Mt. Airy for 40 years before moving to Germantown.
His strong feelings about the area made putting together this show a no-brainer.
"I really love Mt. Airy," Harris said. "I've studied the history. I grew up playing in the Wissahickon. I love the trees. And I think it's such a great place."
Harris said he's been working on the show for the past year or so along with other members of the band—trumpet player Martha Michael has also co-written. The group wanted to do it in the spring, before people went on vacation.
The last month or two has been particularly intense as scripts have been finalized and actors have been secured. The show, in the end, is expected to last about two hours.
Mt. Airy is certainly the primary neighborhood being parodied in the show, but that doesn't mean it's the only one that's being skewered. Chestnut Hill is getting its fair share of flack as well.
"We couldn't not do that," Harris said.
Weavers Way plays a central role in the performance, which Harris hopes gets recorded and maybe eventually converted into a podcast.
One of the skits, called "Searching For Tamari," is a soap opera of sorts, in which customers come and look for particularly unusual items in the co-op. Among them: Free range octopus and unpasteurized bat milk.
Another is modeled after the Prairie Home Companion recurring character Guy Noir: Private Eye (it's called Mt. Airy Dining Detective). And a third parodies cooperators who work in Weavers Way's basement, packing nuts and dried pineapples.
One cooperator gets thrown out for eating too much food. The others are held captive until they escape and run out into the street.
There will also be a news element to the show. Crazy anchors and traffic reporters will interrupt the show to provide strange diversions.
Some of the musical numbers include a song called "That's Weavers Way" (to the tune of "Old Man River") and an original parody of Mt. Airy's history (to the tune of "American Pie").
Williams will sing a song to the tune of "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad." Walk a Crooked Mile is right off the Chestnut Hill East line, which makes the song fitting.
The show will end with a Harris monologue in which he'll mention Don Murphy and his barber shop.
Harris has been listening to "A Prairie Home Companion" for the past five years and has really come to love it more recently.
"I think radio is just such a cool medium," he said.
The experience has also been a transformative one for him. He's been writing comedy for a while, but it's different, he said, when people are actually saying the words that you write.
That's why he hopes to maybe put on the show annually if all goes well this year.
"I'd love to do this again," Harris said.
Saint Mad, as a whole, will be performing, as will Chestnut Hill singer/songwriter Neal Phillips and actors Matt Nicholas, Heather Cole, Andrew Criss, Loretta-Lucy Miller and Andy Pettit. There could be surprise appearances from other local celebrities.
Mt. Airy Home Companion is playing Sunday at 7 p.m. at Allens Lane Art Center. You can purchase tickets, which cost $15, here.