Ukuleles, Mormons and Off-the-wall Humor As Written by UNCG Alumni
It’s not often that anything but regret comes from a dare. A photo of you drinking a whole bottle of hot sauce, maybe, but not a touring musical. However, in the case of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Brooklyn, it was a dare that ignited six UNCG alumni to create a theater company, and even write a new play.
Comprised of a group of friends who met and befriended one another in college, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Brooklyn is coined, “a theatrical home for Southerners in the North.”
The group has six members: Caitlin Davis, Kaleigh Malloy, Dave May, Elizabeth May, Lily Narbonne and Chris Raddatz (who has performed at Triad Stage in End Days and Masquerade).
The seed for the group, as well as the show, was planted just two years ago, when Davis and Elizabeth took a dare and signed up for a variety show at their neighborhood bar in Brooklyn. “They attempted to play a sweet song on the ukulele, but weren’t convinced their skills on the uke could stand alone,” Malloy said.
“So they devised a short five-minute sketch about three sisterwives looking for their missing husband, carried baby dolls out onstage [appropriately named Amber and Alert], and sang ‘Killing Me Softly’ as operatically as only sister-wives can.”
The girls decided to call themselves the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Brooklyn — a play on Elizabeth’s adoration for the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
From there, the girls were invited out to several other venues and shows, and eventually formed the sketches into a musical comedy — Missionary in Manhattan: The Dirty South Tour — and submitted it to the Dream Up Festival at the Theatre For the New City in New York City.
Malloy was then called upon to help direct and be a part of the show. “We had a really incredible run in NYC,” she said, “but wanted to keep developing the script and story lines of these ridiculous characters, so we rented a theater space in Philly (which is where I currently live) and from there the UOGB has continued to grow and evolve into the small, but mighty, company that we are today.
“The company is an incredible source of positivity in our lives,” Malloy adds. “This company has allowed all of us to take our work into our own hands and make our own opportunities. We’re constantly creating new work.”
The group has already produced a short film, “Poor Traits,” for Tropfest New York, and was also, oddly enough, contacted by a documentary crew that was following the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain on their world tour and was even asked to be a part of the film.
As for their upcoming show in Greensboro, Malloy says, “We couldn’t be happier to be bringing Missionary in Manhattan to our hometowns. We’ve been dying to share our work with our families and friends for quite some time now.”
The framework for the interactive piece is the audience attending the Have You Seen Him tour, organized by the wives in an effort to track down their husband, Charles (Dave May).
The show contains both original songs and parodies as the girls disclose their trials in searching for their run-away husband and their long journey from East Tennessee.
Malloy says the inspiration for the show was drawn from their relationship with a mutual friend — Charles Gregory Howard — so much so, that they named the brother-husband character after him.
“Caitlin, Elizabeth, Charles and I lived together on Walker Avenue while we were at UNCG and while Charles was coming to terms with his homosexuality,” Malloy explained. “He was, and still is, our best friend — and it’s always been Charles and his three ladies. So it’s impossible to ignore the parallels in the story about a man named Charles Howard who’s run off with another man and left his three sister-wives to hunt him down.”
The group’s Greensboro upbringing is evident throughout the script, which is speckled with key local landmarks, such as the Four Seasons Mall and the abandoned Greensboro Inn, where the girls are staying. “God rented it to them for free.”
As the show progresses, secrets are revealed that the women have been keeping from each other, and they have to come to terms to the fact that their husband might not ever come home.
“This is a show that proves that families come in all shapes and sizes,” Malloy said. “It’s a show that celebrates individualism and staying true to yourself when the world as you know it gets turned upside down. It’s compassionate, hilarious, an absolute blast, and you won’t see anything like it anywhere else.”
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Brooklyn performs Missionary in Manhattan: The Dirty South Tour Saturday, June 8, at 8 p.m. at Elsewhere Artist Collaborative, 606 S. Elm St. Play is not suitable for those under 13. Tickets are $10. For tickets or more information visit greatuke.com.