Mt. Airy Home Companion lands in Chestnut Hill, will parody both neighborhoods

About a year ago, Mt. Airy native Jim Harris launched the world premiere of “Mt. Airy Home Companion,” the Northwest’s very own radio-style variety show, modeled on the work of NPR legend Garrison Keillor, at Allens Lane Art Center. Harris and the group are gearing up for the third installement of the program this weekend.

After a second round of the show packed Allens Lane last December, Harris and his collaborators, including fellow members of the band Saint Mad, looked to a new, larger venue for the performance.

On Saturday and Sunday, Mt. Airy Home Companion will be back – only this time, it’s coming to the Conkey Center for the Performing Arts at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.

Two sold-out shows

In 2012, “all the shows at Allens Lane, we had sold out,” said Harris, a humor columnist for the Chestnut Hill Local newspaper and occasional NewsWorks contributor. “We started thinking maybe we could move to a bigger venue.”

Last December’s show led to a modicum of fame for Saint Mad – an original song about PhillyFresh Pickles, on sale at Weavers Way, led to a chance to record a commercial for the vinegary snacks.

Mt. Airy versus Chestnut Hill

“The overall theme is Mt. Airy comes to Chestnut Hill,” Harris said of the latest show, which will include a proven formula of local public radio spoofs, original comedy skits, dancing and live music.

This year, Harris said the script, co-written by Saint Mad member Martha Michael, will address the “stereotypical differences” between Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill – such as Mt. Airy’s “old hippies” versus Chestnut Hill “bluebloods.”

A Wizard at the train station

While Harris says the latest show will incorporate more live music than the last two, the performance is still built around a central skit that, this time, puts a funny Northwest spin on the Wizard of Oz.

Harris explained that Dorothy “is a furniture maker from Chestnut Hill who has some kind of accident with a piece of equipment.”

She ends up in a strange parallel universe known as Mt. Airy.

Chestnut Hill’s Dorothy is in for plenty of adventures. “Instead of a Tin Man, we have a parking kiosk,” Harris said. “Instead of a scarecrow, we have a mannequin.”

And the Cowardly Lion? He works at the Co-op.

Dorothy wants to get back to Chestnut Hill, and instead of sending her to the Emerald City, everyone in Mt. Airy keeps pointing to Greg Williams of Walk a Crooked Mile Books.

“They’re trying to get to the bookstore, because people tell them that [Greg] knows everything and he can help them,” Harris went on.

Williams, a big supporter of the show (Saint Mad plays at his shop annually) who appeared in the production’s holiday performances, will be onstage again – playing himself as the Wizard.

The usual suspects

Joining Williams and Harris will be the other members of Saint Mad: Michael, Molly Mahoney, Lydia Chen, and Audrey Bookspan. Actors Andy Pettit, Loretta Lucy Miller, Elizabeth Caruso and Harris’s son “Q” are also returning for the show.

A choir of high school and college students from Masterman, LaSalle High School and the University of Pennsylvania will be appearing as well.

Attendees on Saturday night will get a chance to hear from former mayoral candidate Sam Katz, who will give a brief presentation on his “Great Experiment” video series.

This weekend’s Mt. Airy Home Companion will be at the Conkey Center for the Performing Arts at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 25 and 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 26. Tickets are $15 in advance through the Saint Mad website and $20 at the door.

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