Cole Schneider of Handsome Little Devils on scaling down Squirm...and magic!

It's been a busy sixteen months for Handsome Little Devils. In October 2011, the vaudevillian comedy troupe took its Squirm Burpee Circus act -- a blend of acrobatics, juggling and juggling -- to Broadway, enjoying a successful run at the New Victory Theatre and getting positive reviews in such little local pubs as the New York Times. The crew capitalized on the exposure, touring the production to other venues and picking up some tips from Broadway pros along the way.

On February 19, the troupe known for gargantuan juggling machines and oversized cannons will scale down its antics for an appearance at Comedy Works South. In lieu of the elaborate effects and involved plot twists of the circus show, the newest production, titled Conjure, will feature magic feats in a more intimate setting, drawing on the equipment and expertise of Joey Wartnerchaney for a family-friendly show.

Westword caught up with the Handsome Little Devils' Cole Schneider to get details on the new production, as well as an update on the crew's frenetic schedule over the past year.

Westword (A.H. Goldstein): How have the Handsome Little Devils spent the past year or so?

Cole Schneider: New York was a big success for us. We had a really great run out there and got really good reviews from several publications. Of course, the big kahuna was the New York Times coming out and giving us a very positive review. We have been booking the heck out of the show since then. We actually went back to New York for a couple of shows last year. We've been touring nationally a lot.

Has the basic structure of the show remained the same?

We've been making some changes. In January, we attended a national conference and presented at Hernando Beach. Someone who is in the community there actually stepped up and was really excited about the project. She got together with her theater and her board...We started working with a new director from New York, (who worked) on Bonnie & Clyde on Broadway.

We've been doing a rewrite and a final polish on the (Squirm Burpee) show. Also this past year, I found out that I have a hip injury. It's kind of a thing that isn't going to go away. I actually have a replacement in the show who is one of my best friends. We have a new Lolo in the show -- we also are getting a second cast altogether. In the next year or so, we think we might have two versions of Squirm Burpee to tour. We've been going back and forth with two different Barons -- the evil villain character. We have Jason (Knauf), who's been our Baron for a long time. We just hired Jimmy Slolina, who is a Cirque du Soleil clown. He's another Baron who we have out on the road.

Right after we open the magic show, Mike (Huling) and I are heading to Chicago to host auditions for the juggling roles.

So are you bringing the refitted show to Comedy Works?

No. [laughs] The show at Comedy Works is a completely new venture. It's a magic show. We've never done that before.

How did that come about? Where did you find time to put together a magic show between touring and trying to find a second Squirm Burpee cast?

I have no idea. We started working with a new director last spring. Most of the hard work for Squirm Burpee is now done and it's really evolving on its own. That's part of it. Now we're at the point where we're just doing the show, rehearsing the brush-ups, going out on the road.

The Comedy Works show came about because a colleague of mine from High Noon Entertainment was helping them figure out their family programming. They're trying to do a family show about once a month, trying to get a new audience into the club and trying to do a new community outreach. He had heard about Squirm Burpee and recommended that for Comedy Works, but our show is now way too big to be done on a comedy-club stage.

Squirm Burpee wouldn't work, but we had been tossing around this idea of a magic show for a while. We told them that we didn't have the show, but if they were interested, we could make a deadline. How do you go about assembling a magic show that will fit in a comedy club?

This show is actually a new thing for us. It's a collaboration with Joey Wartnerchaney ... He does a lot of different things, but one of the things he does is some of the programming at Elitch Gardens. He does their circus-style shows and their Halloween shows. He got his start in entertainment doing magic, and through the years, he's produced a lot of magic shows with other magicians. He owns all of these really awesome illusions that most of the year are just sitting in his shop being beautiful, not being used.

That's how we started. What we're doing with this Comedy Works thing is taking a lot of Joey's illusions and his wealth of knowledge in the magic world and we're kind of putting our Handsome Little Devils stamp on it. It's a character-based show. There's a lot of audience participation. We do throw in some vaudeville-style entertainment.

You mentioned a character-based quality. Are you going to reprise your roles from the circus?

No, they're a little bit different. It's just me and Mike, who is now my husband [laughs]. Mike's character is named Cornelius Hasbury, and he is the great-great nephew of a famous magician. My character is named Abigail, and I am the spirit of his great-great-uncle's assistant.

What I would say about the characters is that Mike and I have been performing for so long that there is a natural chemistry -- I would say it's a little bit like Lucille Ball, how she would always play similar roles. My role is similar to Lolo. His character is similar to Handsome Mike, but also very different.

You mentioned the smaller scale of the comedy club stage. You're a troupe that's known for big contraptions and effects, for giant juggling machines and oversized cannons. How are you going to bring that element to Comedy Works?

We have two very large illusions. We actually had to take measurements to make sure they could fit on the stage. We're actually doing smaller-scale things, too -- we've worked with Joey on set work and prop work for a long time, so the aesthetic rings true. Mike has actually had a hand in refinishing some of these illusions and putting his aesthetic on them.

Without giving too much away, can you give some hints about the kind of tricks we'll see at Comedy Works?

I am the magician's assistant, and I get squished into nothingness. I have body parts cut up and all that sort of thing. It is a family show, so it's not too gruesome. We're also doing some small-scale, close-up magic. We are also doing some mind-reading. One of the things that will be the most fun is the audience participation element. We have several routines where we're working with the audience, bringing them up on stage, bringing adults up on stage.

Will this be a one-shot deal at the club, or is it being planned as something that's more durable?

We are expecting this show to have a long life. Right now, the show that we'll be doing at Comedy Works will be around forty minutes long. We'll have opening acts as well. What we want to do is continue to work this show throughout 2012 and bring it all the way to the level where it could be a full theater show. We want to tour it. A lot of the venues we go to with Squirm Burpee can't have us back within several years, because they have to keep their programming rotating. This is an opportunity to have a show that has a similar audience appeal.

Everyone loves to see magic -- that's a thing I'm learning. Everyone is very excited when we tell them we're doing a magic show. I think that what we'll be doing eventually is touring in similar venues and picking up theaters that Squirm Burpee is too big for. We'll be able to bring this show to theaters where we've not been able to bring Squirm Burpee.

If they like it at Comedy Works, I think it will be able to come back as part of the family series.

So do you see this as a chance to develop a new skill set for the troupe?

This might be a little bit of a different magic show than what people have seen. The illusions are Vegas-style illusions, but we are coming at it from a comedy standpoint, a variety standpoint. Our approach is learning magic as another skill set, whereas a lot of other performers are magicians first.

This might be a little bit different. We're having a great time developing the show.

Conjure is set for 6 p.m. Sunday, February 19 at Comedy Works South.. Tickets start at $15 for adults, and $10 for children under 12; find more info at the Comedy Works website.

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