IF YOU GO
What: Laugh-out-loud sketch comedy musical satire that examines the pains, pleasures and pitfalls of growing gray disgracefully.
When: Noon Saturday, April 17 and Sunday, April 18
Where: Big Cypress Marketplace is located a 20 minute drive from downtown Naples on U.S. 41 East/Tamiami Trail, four miles east of Collier Boulevard (951)
Cost: $29.95, plus tax; includes meal
Information: 239-774-1690 or BigCypressMarketplace.com
NAPLES — Rick Compton and Betsy Bennett, better known as comedy duo Compton & Bennett and creators of a series of acidic satires that poke fun at the hoity-toity manners and mannerisms of Collier County, have hit the big time.
The pair announced Tuesday that Douglas Gray of Douglas Gray Matters Presents signed on as producer and manager of "Assisted Living: The Musical™," their saucy take on growing old disgracefully. The pair will be represented by Rojas Talent Group of Miami.
"The thing is, usually this happens to people in their thirties - it's happening to us in our 50s. People in their 30s have been working for 15 years. Betsy and I have been working together for 15 years - so it's the same in a chronological sense," said Rick Compton.
"Before I was 10 years old I was putting on shows in my basement. The first show I did I wrote by myself. It was called "The Devil and the Princess" - the devil had higher billing," said Bennett. "I cast my sister as The Devil. The second act opened in the graveyard and I had all the stones out. The neighbors got weird because I had all their names on them. Mom didn't let me put on any more shows, but people did laugh!"
And they're still laughing.
Compton & Bennett have performed all over Southwest Florida - from the English Pub to the Norris Center to the Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers. Their razor-sharp tongues and nimble wit gave audiences such creations as "Much Ado About Naples," "How to Succeed in Naples Without Really Trying" and "Sandy Bottoms and the Jimmy Buffet," but "Assisted Living: The Musical™" is - by far - their biggest hit.
"We were playing a gig at the Art League of Bonita Springs and someone asked what our next show was," relates Bennett. "Rick looked over and there was a woman getting up with a walker and blurted out "Assisted Living" and I tacked on "The Musical. We got out in the parking lot, looked at each other and go 'Now we have to write it!'"
The first performance of "Assisted Living: The Musical™" was at the Art League of Bonita Springs on May 6, 2009, followed by a series of sold-out dates at Fred's Diner on Immokalee Road that led to rapturous word of mouth, critical acclaim and open doors at the very senior facilities the pair was spoofing. Terracina Grand in East Naples became the first assisted living facility to host the namesake show on June 25, 2009.
After more than 100 peformances over 10 months, the duo realized they had something special on their hands.
"My cousin was in the Twyla Tharp dance company. When we realized that we had something, I e-mailed my aunt and said "We need booking agents, lawyers, management help,'" said Bennett. "My aunt contacted my cousin, who sent back a list of people. One of those people was Doug Gray - a stage manager for Tharp's European tour."
There was a mutual vetting process between the two parties; Gray eventually asked for a script and came to see the two perform on tour at The Silver Cricket Restaurant in Lady Lake.
"He read the script and still wanted to see the show anyway," said Compton."He brought an agent and gave us notes. [Gray's] advice to us was 'What you have right now is a very good act, and what we need to make it into is a very good show.'"
Gray quips that recognizing talent runs in his family; it was his parents’ $330 investment in a yet-to-be produced 1960 Off-Broadway musical that put him through college. That musical turned out to be "The Fantasticks," which would run for 42 years, 17,162 performances and go on to become the world's longest-running musical.
"I love 'Assisted Living: The Musical™,'" said Gray. "It's hard to decide if Rick and Betsy are more talented as writers or performers. This show has a big future and Southwest Florida has seen it first."
Gray plans a two-pronged strategy for "Assisted Living: The Musical™." He wants to expand the current performance calendar beyond Central and Southwest Florida and include a summer tour of the Northeast. A second step is to license the script and score - written entirely by Compton and Bennett - so that everyone across the nation can enjoy the rousing tunes of "The Viagra Medley," an ode to Pfizer's little blue pill with lyrics like "There's no Agra like Viagra!"
Compton & Bennett's final two public shows in Collier County for the near future will be Saturday and Sunday, April 17-18 at Big Cypress Marketplace in East Naples. Shows start at noon both days; tickets are $29.95 plus tax and include lunch. Call 239-774-1690 or go online to www.BigCypressMarketplace.com.
For booking information, call Edwin Rojas of Rojas Talent Group of Miami at 888-898-0908.