Yes, it is the same comic crew that starred together in the folk-music spoof, "A Mighty Wind." And they're all coming to Seattle's McCaw Hall, taking their film on the road in a live performance of the "Ode to Irving" concert from the movie, co-written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy.
Getting these talents in one place at the same time equals a scheduling nightmare, so this could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Guest directs. He's the mastermind behind mockumentaries like "Waiting for Guffman," which lampooned heartland hams with Broadway aspirations, and "Best in Show," a crazy, canine tell-all that rolled over on championship dog shows. "A Mighty Wind" marks the third film Guest and his hilarious ensemble has made together, not counting the original, landmark rockumentary "This is Spinal Tap," which was directed by Rob Reiner.
Think back 40 years ago to a time when young folks were earnest and protestors wanted to make love, not war. Long before there were hipsters, there were folksters. They blew in the wind with Bob Dylan and left on a jet plane with Peter, Paul and Mary. These were the voices of a generation, and they get a hefty tweaking in "A Mighty Wind." Think droll and affectionate.
The live concert of "A Mighty Wind" blows in the same general direction as the film. When legendary folk-music promoter Irving Steinbloom (supposedly patterned after Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman) dies, his son Jonathan organizes a memorial concert with three of his father's favorite folk groups: The Folksmen, The New Main Street Singers and Mitch and Mickey. These groups have long ago gone their separate ways, but agree to reunite one last time for the "Ode to Irving" salute.
Meet the players, starting with Bob Balaban, who portrays Jonathan Steinbloom, Master of Ceremonies and all-around pain-in-the-fussbudget. As a child, he founded the Jewish Children's Polo League, who rode Shetland Ponies instead of horses.
Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, the heavy-metal gods from "Spinal Tap," recreate The Folksmen, a trio of gone-to-seed troubadours who are dead ringers for The Kingston Trio. The Folksmen met in college during "the Great Folk Music Scare," donned dickeys and specialized in protest songs on a label that produced records without holes. Their big hit, "At Joe's Place" (they usually slice off the "J" in Joe when they sing), contains goofy lyrics such as "There's a puppy in the parlor and skillet on the stove." While McKean looks fairly normal in his role as Jerry Palter in "A Mighty Wind," Shearer, as Mark Shubb, sports a shaved pate and Amish beard, while Guest, a.k.a. Alan Barrows, goes clownish in a genetic blend of Art Garfunkel, Ron Howard and Ronald McDonald.
As Mitch and Mickey, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara wallow in dysfunctional hilarity as the wacky, washed-up duo. Fashioned after Canadian folkies Ian and Sylvia, M&M met at a New York City hospital after he defended her honor at a Greenwich Village folk-club brawl. Once he healed, the duo started singing together, fell in love, married, and scored a huge hit, "There's a Kiss at the End of the Rainbow." But success doomed their relationship. After their breakup, Mitch settled into a perpetual breakdown, while Mickey settled for a dorky husband named Crabbe who sells catheters and loves model trains and the Power Puff Girls. When he doesn't reside at the Cherry Hill Psychiatric Hospital, Mitch walks and talks through life like a stoned combo of Bob Dylan and Brian Wilson.
The New Main Street Singers, harmonically lobotomized to sound like the New Christy Minstrels, is a nine-member dream team. Mega-celebrities in Branson, Mo., they first came together when the original Main Street Singers (five) performed with the Klapper Family Singers (four) at a hootenanny. Now they are a neuftet (nine) and thrive on their regular gigs, be it cruise ship or country fair. Take husband-and-wife Terry and Laurie Bohner (pronounced just as you feared), hilariously created by Jane Lynch and John Michael Higgins. She's a trailer-trash tootsie who made it big as a porn star, and he's managed to remain nauseatingly wholesome throughout his adult life. But all is not as it seems. The Bohners belong to an obscure fringe cult that worships bright colors, but it's "not hooey like astrology."
The Mighty Wind ensemble includes some of the best supporting actors in showbiz. Besides the Guest-lead film satires, they rock as individual performers. Filmgoers know Levy as Jason Biggs' father in the "American Pie" series, Queen Latifah's lovestruck swain in "Bringing Down the House" and the Arabic housewrecker from "Father of the Bride, Part II." O'Hara, also a former member of SCTV, played mother to Wynona Rider in Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice," then to Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone I and II."
Michael McKean wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 17 songs on the "A Mighty Wind" film score. But couch potatoes will remember his nasal, nerdy Lenny from "Laverne and Shirley," as well as his 1980s stint on Saturday Night Live and recent turn as the snippy boss on HBO's "Dream On." His fellow Folksman, stand-up comedian and comedy writer Harry Shearer, currently can be heard on "The Simpsons," but also did time on SNL. And way back when, played young David in the Biblical saga, "The Robe."
You probably won't see Fred Willard, "Wind"'s blowhard "Wha's Happening?" agent, at McCaw Hall (scheduling conflicts). You will see Parker Posey as part of the New Main Street Singers, and Jennifer Coolidge, the lush-lipped PR gal from "Wind," co-hosts the concert with Balaban. As for the rest of the non-singing "Wind" gang, don't hold your breath.
If you have the film soundtrack, you know what to expect. All accomplished musicians, the actors wrote every song for the score. "Never Did No Wanderin" salutes a heroic nobody, "The Good Book Song" issues a warning about Biblical betrayal, and the breezy finale, "A Mighty Wind," blows affectionate hot air. Levy wrote many of the numbers he performs with O'Hara. Other tunes parody musical protests, including "Skeletons of Quinto," a goofy spin on the Spanish-American War, and "Blood on the Coal," recounting a train wreck in a coalmine. And listen for a harmonizing take on the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up."
Guest's "Wind" ensemble captures a time when silliness co-existed with sentiment. Baby Boomers should feel right at home, although you don't have to be "of an age" to enjoy this hootenanny. As the title song says, "It's blowing peace and freedom: it's blowing you and me." Not a gust you want to miss.
Freelance writer Starla Smith is a Queen Anne resident. She can be reached at email@example.com