Origin story: “The Pied Piper of Hoboken”

“The Pied Piper of Hoboken” goes back to my Philly days,.

I was doing stand-up comedy at the time and it occurred to me that comedy clubs were wasted real estate during the day. Why not feature hip, funny children’s theater in such as space and fill some of the Saturday/Sunday dead air?

So, based on an idea by Eddie Varley, I drafted “The Adventures of Paul Nocchio” (later known as “Paul Nocchio: The Doughboy Rises) and we launched it at a west Philly comedy club. Varley played the doughboy who comes to life and the already amazing stand-up comic and actor Paul F. Tompkins played his father, pizza-maker Guseppo.

The project was a blast…but faded away.

A few years later, though, fellow journalist Tom McGrath and I hatched Comedy for Kids in the Middle Eastern restaurant that also housed The Comedy Works in Olde City Philadelphia. Interest grew and more plays followed, primarily in yet another venue, the basement of the Bourse building on Independence Mall.

We both agreed that the strongest of those two seasons of original plays was “The Pied Piper of Germantown,” a mash-up of multiple Shakespeare plays fused to the pied piper story and set in Medieval Philadelphia. (In the cast: Ben Lipitz, now on tour in “The Lion King.”) Later, when we took the play to New York for two weekends, we transposed it to New Jersey, changing the name to “The Pied Piper of Hoboken.”

Shortly thereafter, I moved to Indianapolis and Comedy for Kids quietly folded.

I love the piece, though, and the pleasure audiences took in it. So, after meeting composer Becky Archibald, I applied for a grant to develop it into a musical. This led to a script-in-hand public reading at the Indiana History Center as part of a fundraiser that helped get the seed money to launch the Indy Fringe festival (a fact I haven’t seen touted in any of the Fringe histories I’ve read).Attempts to revise the piece convinced me that it just didn’t want to be a musical. So, years later, I stripped out the music and took it through another round of rewrites and another reading. It sat in my computer, though, until Lori Raffel at Theatre on the Square told me TOTS had slots in the 2014 Fringe Festival but wasn’t sure what to stage. She asked if I had anything. I shared the latest version of “The Pied Piper of Hoboken,” and she enthusiastically asked to produce it…and asked me to direct. After more tinkering…including a new opening, “The Pied Piper of Hoboken” is ready for its first full production in nearly 20 years. It opens Aug. 16 at 7:30 at TOTS for the first of six performances throughout the Indy Fringe festival.If you get to the show, let me know what you think,And, of course, if you happen to know a Shakespeare festival looking for a fun, family friendly show, drop me a note.

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