By Ann Reily
---- — If variety is the spice of life, then next Thursday’s show at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport is shaping up to be extra-spicy.
Actor, singer, parodist and impersonator John Budzyna has assembled a number of other local performers to join him for Variety Tonight! Along with renditions of Broadway and pop songs, the evening will feature Budzyna’s parody songs about the city, including a few from 2011’s “Forbidden Newburyport.”
It was that revue, created by Suzanne Hitchcock Bryan and based on the idea of “Forbidden Broadway,” that helped inspire Budzyna to put on this variety show.
“It kind of rekindled my creative juices,” Budzyna said. “The variety show as an institution has slowly kind of disappeared from our culture.”
A new song premiering at next week’s show is a spoof of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” Though Budzyna, a Newburyport resident, is keeping most of the details under wraps, he does share that it includes lyrics about Mayor Donna Holaday and the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority.
“It’s just the perfect song to parody, no matter what the topic,” said Budzyna, the former executive director of the Firehouse.
Budzyna said the ideas for his parodies usually come to him on a whim, forcing him to grab a napkin or his cellphone to get the lyrics down. For example, his song about the Crow Lane landfill, featured in “Forbidden Newburyport,” was inspired by “Maria” from “West Side Story,” in which his son Colin was starring at the time.
“I just thought it would be fun to sing a beautiful song about something that’s smelly and a source of contention,” Budzyna said.
Variety Tonight! also boasts appearances by Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, in the form of one of Budzyna’s “comedic staples”: He takes on both parts of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” His impersonations are apparently so spot-on that a critic of a past performance was sure he was lip-syncing. He has since changed some of the lyrics to prove that he is really singing live.
Fellow “Forbidden Newburyport” alumni Ann Ormond, president of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and Newburyport actress Amy LeJeune will join Budzyna for the “Wrecking Ball” performance.
Additionally, Ormond and LeJeune will each sing a solo number, as well as a duet of “For Good” from the musical “Wicked.” Budzyna asked them to do the tune, which is a farewell between witches Elphaba and Glinda.
Because “For Good” is a ballad, both performers wanted to choose more upbeat Broadway numbers for their solos. Ormond is singing “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from “Show Boat,” while LeJeune will belt out “Not for the Life of Me” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
“I didn’t want a ballad, I wanted something ‘up,’” said Ormond, who picked her song from the collection of music she has amassed over the years.
After watching actress Sutton Foster during the Kennedy Center tribute to Shirley MacLaine on television recently, LeJeune turned to the musical that gave Foster her big break.
“I think it’s fun to have music back on the stage at the Firehouse,” said LeJeune, who often works as a stage manager at the theater.
Both women said during a rehearsal this week with pianist Evelyn Mann that they are nervous, especially about forgetting the words. But Ormond was quick to add that that is a good thing.
“If you’re not nervous, something’s wrong,” she said.
Since there is no run-through or dress rehearsal of the entire show beforehand, LeJeune and Ormond are also looking forward to seeing what else the evening has to offer. Ormond was particularly excited that the show will highlight the talents of the city’s younger performers, including Julia Yameen, Berit Palma, and Budzyna’s children Colin and Maggie.
“There’s so much talent in this city that it’s great to have it showcased,” Ormond said.
“They’re just wonderful people who have a talent to share,” Budzyna said. “All they need is the right moment of nurturing or encouraging.”
Variety Tonight! is being presented by Acting Out! Productions, a Newburyport children’s theater program that is co-directed by singer-songwriter Mara Flynn and Budzyna’s wife, Deirdre.
Flynn will perform three original songs during next week’s show. She promises a pop tune, a “fun and silly song” on the ukulele, and the title track from her latest CD, “Wide Open.”
“I tried to choose three songs that were different from one another,” said Flynn, who lives in South Berwick, Maine.
Also an actress, Flynn first crossed paths with John Budzyna several years ago, when they were both part of Little City Comedy Company, the Newburyport troupe run by Stephen Faria and another inspiration for Variety Tonight!
“I’m looking forward to seeing what we’re in for,” Flynn said. “John’s just a delight.”
Flynn will be joined by backing vocalist and cellist Juliet Norman and guitarist and bassist Guy Capecelatro III.
Though next week’s show will feature mostly musical performances, it will also include a “Saturday Night Live”-style news segment with Budzyna and Ashley Risteen, as well as a game show centering around The Pettengill House in Salisbury. Attendees are encouraged to bring nonperishable food donations for Pettengill, which supports at-risk children and families in the Greater Newburyport area.
“March and April are their hardest months,” said Budzyna, who will also donate a portion of proceeds from ticket sales to Pettengill.
If next week’s variety show is well-received, Budzyna hopes to expand it into an event occurring two or three times a year. Future performances could incorporate dance, poetry, readings and skits, he said.
“If people could laugh more, I think this world would be a better place,” Budzyna said.
If you go
What: Variety Tonight!
When: Thursday, March 13, at 7 p.m.
Where: Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, Newburyport
Starring: John Budzyna, Colin and Maggie Budzyna, Mara Flynn, Johanna Hoyt Kimball, Amy LeJeune, Chris O’Donnell, Ann Ormond, Berit Palma, Ashley Risteen, and Julia Yameen
How much: $16 for adults and $14 for seniors, students and members. Tickets available at www.firehouse.org or 978-462-7336.
More information: www.varietytonight.net or www.facebook.com/varietytonight
In addition to next week’s variety show, Acting Out! Productions is also presenting “Seussical Jr.,” playing this weekend at the Firehouse. Directed by John and Deirdre Budzyna, the musical brings favorite Dr. Seuss characters to life. Four performances scheduled for Friday through Sunday feature more than 75 local students. The shows are sold out, but for last-minute availability, contact the box office at 978-462-7336.