The Great Richini’s A Very Extravagant Christmas Extravaganza at Ace of Cups December 21
The first thing Rich Johnston wants to make clear is, “The Great Richini is a team. It’s one person’s name, but it takes a team to make it work.” He returned to this throughout my conversation with Johnston and Bree Frick, integral writer-performer on the team. The Great Richini’s second-annual Christmas show at north campus rock haven Ace of Cups promises to combine that sense of community and warmth he has for the rest of his team and his guests endemic of the best parts of the holidays.
After touring the world as a musician, including with Psychedelic Horseshit, Johnston found himself dissatisfied with music and comedy. “I woke up at 6 in the morning one day and said ‘I’m a magician.’ I tried a DVD but found the presentation of the tricks…hilarious. Most of them were ‘How to make a friend,’ ‘Guaranteed to get a phone number,’ ‘The ladies will love it.'” He laughs.
In the last year and a half, he merged these threads of performance into variety shows, whole evenings of entertainment ranging from game shows – Johnston’s original dream was to be Gene Rayburn from The Match Game – to talent shows to “just a magical time. I think in my mind’s eye, we’re an old Sinatra-style variety show… if Andy Kaufman was a writer.” Frick chimed in, “Degenerate goofs.”
Johnston imbues his work as a magician and MC with that rock-and-roll energy. Frick commented, “In a lot of ways, it’s like a band. When you start, you have a small set list and you grow that repertoire. It would be amazing one day to have a costume or prop budget that’s not all in the thrift store. I made Rich a disappearing outfit that was all fishing line and hours of work with magnets.” Johnston chimed in, “I still have that cut from last week!”
Talking about the core members of his team, “Bree [Frick] writes the show, she makes sure it’s funny and cohesive. Ben Wilkinson works on most of the comedy. We work a lot with my friend Brandon [Gerald], Presto. He’s an amazing magician.”
Johnston promises, “The job of a performer is to take the audience away. People go out to get out. Our job is to take them away and have real emotion and real fun and a genuine time together. I want [the audience] to believe, even just for a moment; to not think about what [they] don’t want to.”
“It’s all for the audience, not for us,” Johnston said, and that seems to be the credo for this Extravagant Christmas Extravaganza. “All of our shows I try to make as family-friendly as possible. No sex and drugs humor, it’s too easy.” Just like classic Christmas variety shows, Johnston said, “I love a good surprise. Even for us. A big show like this, 100% of it will be different; if we recycle a trick, it’s done in a new way. Everyone has a talent on the side. Someone juggles? Yes. Do that. I had a friend doing golf tricks. We can make anything into a set.”
The centerpiece of this year’s extravaganza nods to Andy Kaufman with “The first inter-gender boxing match at Ace of Cups.” Four one-minute rounds pitting Richini against Frick’s character The Beautiful Bree.” They promised both have been training with James “Buster” Douglas.
Johnston said, “Two of my co-workers Liz Wooley [acclaimed local jazz singer] and Jason Ramsey will do something where she sings and he beatboxes. Miss Pam, also from the school I work at, is coming back. Last year she did exactly what she does with our first graders but with people at the bar, passing out instruments, acting out ‘On the first day of Christmas…’ It was wonderful. We have more magicians than ever before, like Eric Tate. He’s a great comedian-magician, he’s performed at the Magic Castle. We have the belly dancing group The Flying Squirrels coming back. We have a stand-up comedian who may or may not also be rapping. When you think we will throw a right hook, we’re going to give you the left.”
This kind of chaos needs a hospitable home and Johnston and Frick were both effusive in their praise of the Ace of Cups team. Frick said, “They’re really supportive even if we get on their nerves.” Johnston said, “[Bartenders] Dan Riffe and Nate Reynolds have both stepped away from working the bar to read The Night Before Christmas to everyone or climb a ladder and shoot shots into glasses from a water-gun. They go above and beyond for us. We don’t get that everywhere.”
“It’s just a wonderful time. Marcy Mays [Ace of Cups owner] said it was the best Christmas party she’d ever been to. People from all different parts of entertainment came together, doing this one thing. It made everybody feel good for Christmas.” Frick said, “It’s a showcase celebrating all these people we know from all over the place with wildly different talents.”
There may be no better options to get back in touch with the warmth and childlike joy of the season than The Great Richini’s A Very Extravagant Christmas Extravaganza. Johnston said, “It’s always different. It’s always evolving. You don’t need any outside experience to come to our shows. You will have your own pure experience. We will take you away.” Frick agreed, “Get dressed up. Bring a date. Make it a night.”
The Great Richini’s A Very Extravagant Christmas Extravaganza comes to life at Ace of Cups (2619 N. High St.) on December 21. Doors are at 9, $5 cover. For additional previews, visit @thegreatrichini on Instagram.