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Hamming it up at minstrel show

February 23, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- Everyone in the cast of the 74th annual Hobo Minstrel Show has a little "ham" in them. And if you ask Director Russ Clever, they need it.

"We want you to laugh and forget your troubles for about two hours," said Clever. "We don't mind doing the same."

The hobo-style minstrel show performed each year in Greencastle has enjoyed one of the longest runs in the United States, and its unique mix of jokes, skits and memorable songs continues to draw more to its flame.

The 2009 show, "Minstrels on Broadway," scheduled to run from March 5 to 7, is a tribute to the street that has produced some of what Clever called America's best music.


Regardless of what is printed in the program, it is impossible to know what to expect, said Bill Brown, a soloist in the show.

"With all the goofing off, you can't even keep a straight face," he said, not long after one of the chorus members stole Clever's director sheet, forcing him to proceed from memory. "But that is the beauty of a minstrel show."

And while everyone has a little "ham" in them, Brown said a generous portion of the "hamminess" that will fill the stage next week belongs to Clever.

"I am a natural entertainer," said Clever. "Dody, my wife, and I have a comedy group called Two Nuts and a Bolt."

Even the mistakes made in rehearsal on Sunday felt like part of the show, as the "ham" in each minstrel made the most of whatever came his or her way to gain a few extra laughs.

Yet after 74 years, keeping this nearly extinct style of live entertainment alive is not nearly as difficult as choosing which song to include, Clever said.

He estimated that about 100 local singers will lend their voices to the revelry set to open on the road Friday with a performance at Quincy Village.

"People just love the show because it is a family show," said Clever. "Our youngest singer is 9 years old, our oldest is about 80."

C. Greg Hoover, the interlocker for the 74th show, said the minstrel show is a contagious tradition.

Hoover said many of the people in the chorus came to a show or a rehearsal with a friend and fell in love with the atmosphere.

Clever, who has been an end man in the show since 1963, said many of the people in the chorus have a long history with the minstrel show, and even Hoover, who is superintendent of the Greencastle-Antrim Public School District, said he is known around town for the minstrel show, which he has done since age 14.

A host of well-known faces will fill the stage next week, including former Antrim Township Manager Ben Thomas, but there will also be some missing.

The 2009 show is dedicated to Eugene Goetz and Frank Mowen, two longtime performers in the show.

"It won't be the same without them, but the show must go on," Hoover said.

If you go:

What: "Minstrels on Broadway" show benefiting Rescue Hose Co.

When: March 5 to 7, 7:30 p.m. with a 5 p.m. spaghetti dinner preceding Saturday's show.

Where: Greencastle-Antrim High School, 300 S. Ridge Ave., Greencastle, Pa.

Tickets sold at the door.

For more information, call 717-597-3815.

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