BY NORM CRAMPTON
If you’ve heard the buzz about the Firehouse Follies, Bloomington’s original radio program, and never managed to tune in, the good news is, there’s always another show around the corner. The next one is Sunday, December 1, from 4 to 6 pm.
The live variety show is presented quarterly by volunteers at WFHB community radio and broadcast from the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Auditorium. The program is a genuine nod to the golden age of radio or, in a more contemporary vein, Bloomington’s version of A Prairie Home Companion.
Every show revolves around parody skits and puns aplenty, and the groans, laughter, and applause they draw make the audience a part of the show.
“We pretty much fill the auditorium, somewhere between one hundred and one hundred and ten seats,” says Mike Kelsey, lead writer and producer. Untold others listen through WFHB’s broadcast frequencies at 91.3, 98.1, 100.7, and 106.3, and still others listen to the shows archived online at wfhb.org.
“We do get a good response,” Kelsey says. “I know there are very few shows like this anywhere in the country.”
Each installment of Firehouse Follies includes music from a house band, a guest artist, and the “heavenly harmonies” of the Gospel Gurlz, who, in their most recent incarnation, include Ginger Curry, Sarah Flint, Cathi Norton, and Suzette Weakley. Gospel Gurlz is a slight misnomer, however, as the Gurlz repertoire also includes pop and doo-wop.
The Unusual Suspects radio acting troupe is led by Richard Fish, a nationally renowned voice actor, and the equally lauded Tony Brewer, who mans a table of doodads, gadgets, and household items to create realistic sound effects. The other Unusual Suspects are Bryan and Brandie Roberts, Betty Greenwell, Mark “Scrapper” Blackwell, Becky Stapf, and Mike Leonard. Shows regularly feature a tale told by Arbutus Cunningham, noted storyteller. Announcers include Dan Selvaggi, Daniel Grundmann, and Jeff Stone. Ivy Tech Community College-Bloomington Chancellor John Whikehart frequently joins in as well.
The September show included various send-ups on The Lord of the Rings and the December 1 show likely will focus on sidekicks. “Sidekicks of all the famous cowboys get together for a convention in Bloomington,” Kelsey says. The guest list might include Tonto, Gabby Hayes, California, Lucky, Smiley Burnette, Chester, Pancho, Jingles, and more. Six-shooters will be checked at the door.
Sunday’s quarterly performance of Firehouse Follies is titled “Leftover Turkeys” and includes a skit about how some noteworthy, old sidekicks get together to rescue the famous figures they once worked for but now are residents of the Bloomington Home for Aging Heroes.
Other turkeys to be celebrated include members of the Unusual Suspects Radio Acting Troupe, who, unknown to many, must take on unusual seasonable jobs to make ends meet between their Follies gigs.
The musical guest this time around is Michael Peter Smith, a singer and songwriter from Chicago who Rolling Stone called “one of the best songwriters in the English language.” Also featured will be storyteller, Arbutus Cunningham and musicians Art Heckman, The WFHB Gospel Gurlz, and The Firehouse Rounders.
The Sunday, December 1, show runs from 4-6 pm in the Ivy Tech Waldron Auditorium. Admission is $5.