Let the wackiness resume!
Arts Block hosts Wright Brothers reunion show Sunday
CORRECTION:Zarcone bills himself not as an impersonator but as a singer, entertainer and DJ who performs live and recorded music from great entertainers like Frank Sinatra, jazz singers, The Beatles and others.
Taking a trip down memory lane with the Wright Brothers is a bit like the comedians’ approach to their shows: they know where they want to end up but are never quite sure how they’re going to get there.
Trying to recall the first time that the group’s five core members performed together, 60-year-old Lenny Zarcone took a pause from juggling onions in his Greenfield kitchen.
“I think you can identify 1985 as the official year,” he said. But Jody Scalise, a 66-year-old from Buckland who considers himself the group’s historian, was quick to protest.
“No, because that was the year that (mime) Peter Abbott died. I was in Greece in the spring,” he said.
And on the conversation went, with Sam Kilbourn, a 70-year-old Freeport, Maine resident, chiming in via speakerphone. The trio excitedly rattled off memorable show after show, even trying to place the date and time of specific comedy sketches and correcting each other whenever they suspected a historical inaccuracy.
One should forgive the Wright Brothers for feeling nostalgic. After years of miming, juggling and doing comedy sketches, Zarcone, Scalise and Kilbourn are preparing for a reunion show this Sunday, at 2 p.m., in The Arts Block. It will be the first time that three or more Wright Brothers have performed together in Franklin County in over a decade.
The Wright Brothers, which also included core members Jack Golden and Garry Krinsky and Paul Richmond, who was a member for one season, met about 30 years ago through a network of entertainment groups and shows. Scalise says he was the common link between the comedians.
Their signature skit may have been a slow-motion race, set to the tune of “Chariots of Fire.” Over the next 15 years, the Wright Brothers made their living at festivals, exhibitions, colleges, corporate events and First Night celebrations all over the country. In their prime, they did about 100 shows a year.
As the men talked, the memories rushed back. There was the time when Kilbourn dressed in drag and sat in the audience for the first half, pretending to be a rowdy onlooker. Or, the time when the Wright Brothers sat in their dressing room mimicking the sounds of an on-stage singer, unaware that the audience could hear them.
And Zarcone recalled one show when all of the Wright Brothers stayed on stage the entire time, dancing and constantly moving even when they weren’t performing.
“It just led to this peak experience where the audience was absolutely enthralled,” he said. “We got this roaring, standing ovation.”
In many ways, the Wright Brothers comedy group was bigger than any of its individual members. People would remember key comedic moments from a show but couldn’t single out the specific performer who did it, said Kilbourn.
The group flirted with fame on the national stage but circumstances, including a desire to pursue solo careers, kept them from ever hitting the big time.
There were talks of being cast in a Rick Moranis movie but the film wasn’t made. Business cards were handed to TV executives but calls never came.
In the early 1990s, they met a Jay Leno associate who wanted to get them three minutes on the “Tonight Show.” But by then the members were pulled in too many different directions in the entertainment business and they couldn’t find time to work out a routine to send the studio.
Golden and Krinsky left to start solo careers. Scalise has performed hundreds of substance abuse prevention and bully prevention shows over the past decade and has lately been re-building his solo show, developing his ukulele and magic skills.
Zarcone and Kilbourn kept performing together at the Franklin County Fair while focusing on developing their own shows. Zarcone bills himself as a singer/entertainer who will pretend he’s Frank Sinatra at places like your wedding or in area clubs. Kilbourn takes on gigs where he does outlandish things incognito — like pretending he’s a waiter at a dinner event and balancing cups on top of each other all night long.
But they can’t escape being Wright Brothers.
One day, Kilbourn was walking to a beach in Maui, Hawaii, when a woman stopped him. She recognized him immediately from a show she saw in the late 1980s.
Other Wright Brothers have recounted similar experiences, especially around Franklin County.
“We’re like legend,” said Scalise. “It’s the weirdest thing. It won’t go away.”
The trio, which now calls itself the Wright Brothers Three, performed in Vermont earlier this fall. Sunday’s show will have all the Wright Brothers’ greatest hits, promised Zarcone, including juggling, miming and “The Race.”
Each has their own suitcase, metaphorically and literally, that they can reach into for comedic inspiration. There’s a good chance accordions, clown outfits and goofy props will make their way onto the stage Sunday.
“You never know when someone is going … to come out with a pair of underwear on his head,” said Kilbourn. “That’s happened.”
The trio hadn’t performed together in over 10 years when its members prepared for the Vermont show. But they said they weren’t rusty; they have stayed in practice for their own performances and retain the “muscle memory” needed for some of their more popular Wright Brothers skits.
They picked a matinee time with hopes that people of all ages, including families, can make it to the show.
Zarcone hopes to reconnect with audience members who enjoyed the comedy group over the years. “We hope to just make people happy,” Scalise said.
Will it lead to more local shows? The Wright Brothers aren’t ruling it out, if schedules allow.
Tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for kids 12 and under. For more information or to buy tickets, go to www.theartsblock.com or call 413-774-0150.
Staff reporter Chris Shores started at The Recorder in 2012. He covers education and health and human services. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264. His website is www.chrisshores.com
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.