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Underground: The Musical

We can be happy underground….

Every Ben Folds and Ben Folds Five fan knows that refrain and can sing every word about the motley crew that inhabits the underworld of pop culture in the 1990s – Officer Friendly’s “little boy” with the Mohawk, slamming the pit fantastic, nose rings installed.

Now, a theatre company in San Diego is collaborating with a local playhouse to premiere a musical featuring the characters and songs from Ben’s nearly thirty year career as a singer-songwriter. Aptly titled Underground, the musical is a co-production of San Diego’s Blindspot Theatre and the Coronado Playhouse. Blindspot’s artistic director, Blake McCarty, wrote the book for the show and works as the production manager for the Coronado Playhouse. The play has been an ongoing project for a decade, its genesis being a graduate project by New Yorkers Amy Cordileone, Donnie Tuel and Rachel Tuggle Wharton. McCarty had collaborated with Cordileone previously, and saw an earlier version of the show in 2015. During the pandemic, the group got together remotely to develop the new show, which Cordileone is choreographing. McCarty says the base theme of the show is the idea that there is good in everyone, a theme present in What Matters Most, Ben’s latest work. The show will feature bits of 40 or so of Ben’s songs, along with characters inspired by the lyrics. And rather than set in a conventional theatre, the audience will find themselves in a dive bar setting, at tables surrounding the performers in a sort of cabaret arrangement. Of Folds, McCarty says “He’s a musical genius, a musical savant who can use the keyboard as both a melodic and percussion instrument. He’s known for writing songs that are personal and full of pathos and humor that capture the quirks and depth of individual human experiences. Often he’s writing about his own foibles and flaws in a way that feels humanizing. But so much of his music is full of remarkable hooks that you can’t help walking away humming.”

Underground opens July 7 and runs Thursdays through Sundays until July 30. Tickets and more information can be obtained at 

The other Alice Childress has her Broadway debut

Trouble In Mind billboardBen Folds Five fans know about Alice Childress. Or at least they think they do.

The song “Alice Childress,” written by Folds and his first wife Anna Goodman, is an outside view of a breakup between a couple who drift apart in their outlook on life. You’re probably humming the opening chords right now.

But another Alice Childress – unrelated to the subject of the Folds song – is having her moment in the spotlight more than a quarter century after her passing. (more…)

If trees could sing


Image by Pollinator / Creative Commons 3.0 ShareAlike

In recognition of the many species of trees in Nashville’s Centennial Park and the role they play in our everyday lives, the Nature Conservancy has sponsored a series of short videos featuring some of the country’s top musical performers talking about their favorite tree. Ben Folds is fond of the sweetgum, a tree native to North Carolina, and he recorded a tribute to the species with many interesting factoids about it.

“Native Americans used sweetgum sap to treat their wounds, and when it hardened, they used it for chewing gum,” Folds said of the tree that can grow to over a hundred feet tall and which turns brilliant shades of red and yellow in the fall.

“Who doesn’t have a favorite tree?” (more…)

The Magical Archive

Ben gave the Armchair a nice shout-out during his show at the Gilmore Piano Festival in Kalamazoo, Mich., Saturday night (April 26) and talked about how the Magical Armchair mailing list was instrumental in charting the course of Ben Folds Five in the early days. They first became aware of the existence of the mailing list at one of their earliest shows when I brought them stacks of printed-out copies of the list messages (since none of them had e-mail or were even on the Internet at the time). Soon thereafter, they did get online, as did their manager, and started subscribing and reading posts from fans. The band members didn’t post, though their road manager at the time did once in a while. Eventually, other methods of fan communication augmented and diminished the importance of the Armchair mailing list, though it is still in service today. Better yet, the archives of the mailing list still exist and can provide a lot of insight into the development and early success of Ben Folds Five.

You can access the first several years of the Magical Armchair at the archive page of the old Ben Folds Five site. These archives run from 1995 through 1999, when the list was migrated to Topica. Topica maintains its own archive, which is only accessible to list members. Note that many of the links and e-mail addresses contained in the archival material have changed or gone offline.

Ben Fraggles Five?

Chris Hardwick, also known as The Nerdist, has put together a special video version of Do It Anyway from the upcoming album The Sound of the Life of the Mind, featuring The Fraggles, from Jim Henson’s 1980s-era childrens’ show Fraggle Rock. The video, with Chris as the hapless audio engineer, also features Rob Corddry and Anna Kendrick as well as a Fraggle cast of thousands (well, not quite thousands). Fraggles are seen down in their cave as the ceiling starts to crumble from the pounding on the floor above, only to find it’s Robert’s jumping around and Darren’s drumming that’s causing the collapse. Saved by a stray mic cord that falls down the hole in the floor, the Fraggles emerge from underground and join the band, popping up from behind the drums and joining Ben at the keys. For anyone who grew up on Henson’s lovably silly creatures, this is a nostalgic look with a wickedly contemporary twist. And one wonders, with the band back together, whether a Fraggles version of Underground is in the works?

You’ll recall that we debuted Do It Anyway as a free download here on the Armchair back in May.