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A modern take on the old-fashioned variety show: Llama Lasagne brings music, circus acts and more to Shea Theater

  • A promotional poster for “Glamourama Llama” at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls on Nov. 16, featuring llamas on a fashion runway.  Image courtesy of Llama Lasagne

  • Llama Lasagne members at a past show include, left to right, Sal Malfettone, Chris Ball, Kat Rapacki, and James Todd.  Image courtesy of Llama Lasagne

  • From left, Ilana J Morris, Josh Hirst, and Courtney Parker take part in a theatrical Llama Lasagne show.  Image courtesy of Llama Lasagne

  • Members of Llama Lasange perform at Wormtown in Greenfield. From left, Jeff Fennell, Steve Yarbro, and Dan Thomas. Image courtesy of Llama Lasagne



Staff Writer
Thursday, November 08, 2018

Twice a year, Valley musicians, artists, circus performers and dancers come together to form Llama Lasagne — a multimedia, theatrical dance party of eclectic cover songs performed with costumes, choreographed dancing, and props. Dozens of musicians rehearse just weeks before the show, learning songs in genres such as pop, hip-hop, funk, or punk rock. 

For more than a decade, Llama Lasagne has presented these varied shows, each with a different theme. Past performances included a pajama party, as well as a benefit show for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, at which musicians sang about food. The lineup is ever changing, too: There’s a rotating cast of musicians onstage during every Llama show, with players forming lots of mini-groups to handle the cover tunes. 

This year, something new is on tap: a celebration and sendup of the fashion world, with a bit of wordplay as well. “Glamourama Llama! All Ages,” a fashion show themed performance, takes place Friday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls, in a benefit for the Franklin Area Survival Center.

On a recent weekend, about half a dozen of the musicians rehearsed in an old warehouse in Greenfield to prepare for the upcoming show. Singer James Todd, of the “sex-positive” dance pop  band Rodd Cummings & The Vibrators, sang “I’m Too Sexy” by 1990s British pop group Right Said Fred. Keyboards chimed behind him, and a slick bass line kept the song’s momentum and drums grooved along.  

“You get to meet all these talented people who are doing things and having fun,” Todd said before he began rehearsing his song. “It’s a zany, silly thing. We don’t take things too seriously. It’s hilarious and fun.”

For this upcoming show, Llama Lasagne members will construct a raised stage with a runway that reaches the audience, Todd said.

“There’s going to be an audience participation fashion show, so people in their own costumes can come and take a walk down our runway,” he added.

The person deemed most fashionable will win a golden llama trophy, according to the Facebook event page for the show.

Evan Curran, a vocalist/guitarist with family friendly folk rock/pop band Shiprock & Anchordog, said he’s been part of Llama Lasagne since 2013. He’ll be dancing throughout the show onstage and singing “Timebomb” by punk rock band Rancid.

“There will be a long musical performance with an intermission,” he said. “There’s a lot of music and with rotating musicians, you’ve got this incredible sustained energy throughout the whole thing. There’s people interacting with the crowd. There’s little mini-activities and props. People have costumes. There’s a lot of sights and sounds. It’s really a carnival and very theatrical.”

A broad spectrum

Over the years, members of Llama Lasagne have staged shows at a variety of venues such The Harp Irish Pub in Amherst, the now-closed Northampton bar The Elevens, Strangecreek Campout Festival in Greenfield, Extravaganja at the Three County Fair Grounds in Northampton and The Florence VFW Club.

Mandy Pachios, lead vocalist of vintage influenced R&B/soul band The Mary Jane Jones, said she’s performed with Llama Lasagne for the past decade, before she formed The Mary Jane Jones.

“You get to make music with people that you never otherwise get to make music with,” she said. “It’s always changing and a very organic group as far as it’s developed. It’s gotten much tighter throughout the years. It used to be much more focused on being silly and having a good time.”

Pachios said Llama Lasagne has transformed into a much more professional group. The ensemble, of about 100 people, has performed at more than 30 Llama Lasagne shows since the mid-2000s; a big focus remains delivering a broad theatrical experience that’s entertaining for everyone.

Hallisey Lawton, head of stage direction and dance choreography for Llama Lasagne, is a member of circus group Cirque to Go in South Windsor, Connecticut, which has performed aerial acrobatic shows across New England. She’ll be bringing her troupe’s expertise to the Llama show at the Shea.

“We have four aerial acts spaced throughout the show at various points, we have three main dance numbers and then we have a slew of micro dances,” she said, adding that a lollipop aerial hoop that’s eight to nine feet tall will be used for the show.  

In a recent phone interview, visual artist Andrea Newland, who serves as artistic director for Llama Lasagne, said the upcoming show aims to capture the flashy experience of being on a fashion runway.

“We’ll have Llamas strut their stuff, bringing in some high fashion and some low fashion,” Newland said. “Fashion is hard to define. It’s everything. Through the song choices, that kind of gives us some direction for how the show will look. I help with stage and set designs, coming up with some ideas and costume designs, and the visual look of the show.”

She said the spirit of Llama Lasagne is inherently do-it-yourself, with props, sets, costumes and other features all created in house.

Jason Metcalf, a founding member of the group, said the name was coined at the first show, held at The Harp in Amherst.

“We’re sitting around a table and trying to come up with names and I remember the drummer, who was really a mandolin player, was like, ‘I got it! Llama Lasagne.’ And the bass player, who was a graphic designer, laughed and instantly drew a picture of a llama with meat cuts [similar] to a cow. And each of the members were the cuts. That was it.”

Metcalf, who left Llama Lasagne and returned to the ensemble at the beginning of the decade, said the band was a “total joke” for the first five shows. One of the ground rules for Llama Lasagne was “no learning songs until two weeks before the show.”

“Now, since a lot of the players are still involved and have matured as musicians, the music has come to another level,” Metcalf said. “Bringing in these older veteran players, they really help guide the younger ones. Sometimes the younger ones guide the veteran players on what’s in and fresh. We take it a little bit more seriously, but also joke around.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

For more information about Llama Lasagne, and to purchase tickets for the show, visit https://sheatheater.org/d/1469/Llama-Lasagne-Presents-Glamourama-Llama. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 on the day of the show.