Variety Pack

by Jodi Lee Reifer


Between a pirate-obsessed mom trading places with a Stepford wife, simpleton celebutards and plastic surgery freakazoids, Pete Michaels has just about OD'd on reality TV sleaze.

And he's betting a few other people feel the same way.

So, the ventriloquist has orchestrated a night of heavy-on-talent, PG-rated, retro entertainment: "Pete Michaels' New Vaudeville."
The gig goes up Saturday at 8 p.m. in the College of Staten Island's Williamson Theater.

Aside from the bill's namesake, the two-hour variety show will feature Bud Light Ladies of Laughter champ Mary Dimino, guitar virtuoso Karlus Trapp, juggling fool Tom Durnin, Steve the Magician and new musical talents Therina Bella and Vinnie Medugno.

OK, so these guys -- all Staten Islanders or natives of this 'burb -- don't have the Nielsen ratings of, say, "Wife Swap."

But not to worry. Most of them have been flexing their showbiz muscles for at least 10 years.

"I wanted to bring something special, especially to the Williamson," says Michaels. "There's no more variety. I used to love 'The Ed Sullivan Show.' Every week he had something different. The Beatles. An impressionist. A plate spinner. It was never the same thing."

So he pitched the idea of a "good old, variety hour" to the college: "This is the chance for them to get up on stage in a beautiful theater and get paid for what they do."

The show won't be just take, take, take, says Dimino, a veteran of Comedy Central's now-defunct "Short Attention Span Theater" and the former "Chris Rock Show" on HBO.

"It's a dialogue. The audience has their chance to talk back when they laugh," says Dimino. "If the talent starts talking to someone in the front row or if the lights go out or if the microphone goes out -- that's a gift. It's a gift that the comic can take and run with."

Dimino, whose mug is instantly recognizable from ubiquitous Chase bank and Dunkin Donuts commercials, cracks wise about growing up Italian in Queens, married life in Grasmere and her weight (she compares her bod to SpongeBob SquarePants).

It's not a stretch that she landed in the CSI vaudeville show. Dimino, 36, says "The Carol Burnett Show" was one of her faves as a young kid.

"We'd all get together as a family and watch," Dimino says. "She was so genuine and so likable you felt like anything could happen at any time."

Same goes for this Saturday night.

The always-in-demand singer/guitarist vet Karlus Trapp jams classic rock/reggae/blues-style.

"In a vaudeville show you have to have a lot everything. If you were watching 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' we'd be like the Neville Brothers from New Orleans. Cause that's what we do, we mix it up," says Trapp, a West Brightonite and finalist in the 2007 John Lennon Songwriters' Contest.

Alterna-rock goddess-in-the-making Cathy Borges, 27, of Elm Park and her band, Therina Bella, supplies the love and loss soundtrack. And 21-year-old vocalist Vinnie Medugno from Elm Park goes an old-school route with standards and Broadway's gold stock.

The new vaudevillians dish up a visually diverse set, too.

Steve the Magician from Arden Heights, who's been making coins disappear for more than 20 years, does standard kid tricks and conjures up illusions like "the floating person." These days, he incorporates some technology -- think fortune-telling cell phones -- into his act, too.

Comedy juggler Tom Durnin mixes high-flying balls with yuck-yucks.

"I really lean toward people that are entertainers rather than technical experts," says the Hazlet, N.J., transplant via Rosebank. While juggling a runaway ball, he might throw in a "pass over" move a Jewish friend taught him.

Then again, it could be the dummies on stage who jolt the crowd out of their coma-inducing couch-potato viewing habits.

Michaels' blockhead entourage will include Papa, a little old Italian puppet who charms the ladies, and Krelmin, an alien from the planet Melmin.

"Krelmin is totally outrageous. He says all the things that everyone in the audience wishes they could say and get away with," the puppet master says.

No matter how techno-sophisticated society becomes, Michaels says audiences will always be intrigued with live performers' ability to throw their voices. Ventriloquism does, after all, go way back. The comedic style of ventriloquism began during the early days of vaudeville, circa the early 1880s until the 1930s.

"That's a talent you don't see anymore done well," says Michaels. "People never forget their first time."

Contact AWE senior writer Jodi Lee Reifer at

Pete Michaels' New Vaudeville
With ventriloquist Pete Michaels, Steve the Magician, alterna-rock band Therina Bella, comedy juggler Tom Durnin, the Karlus Trapp Trio, comedian Mary Dimino and standards vocalist Vinnie Medugno

8 p.m. Saturday

Williamson Theater, Center for the Arts
College of Staten Island
2800 Victory Blvd., Willowbrook

How much
$25 at the box office or call 718-982-ARTS (2787)


All Content, Materials, Images, Photos & Original Characters Copyright: Pete Michaels