The bittersweet so long of The Good Time Variety Hour 

Raised on Radio

The original Good Time Variety Hour debuted during the 2000 Piccolo Spoleto, not long after Bill Schlitt and his wife Maida Libkin left the security of jobs at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist to return to the world of secular musical theater with The Company Company.

It's been a big part of their lives — and Piccolo Spoleto — for eight out of the past nine years.

So when Schlitt, the company's producing director, announced plans earlier this year to put The Good Time Variety Hour into the vault after one final run, people took notice.

Modeled on the old radio format, it anchors a corner of the musical theater genre that has always had a loyal festival following. And it depends on annual (if not nightly) changes. So fans return to see new versions compared to old.

With that much history wrapped up in the festival audience, news of the show's upcoming hiatus makes this year's farewell a special event.

There are only two performances, and Schlitt has been promising surprise appearances by show alumni and local celebrities at each.

Case in point: Not only has Schlitt convinced Robert Ivey (the man Schlitt says persuaded him to return to the stage a decade ago) to lead a special performance, he also booked Charleston Cultural Affairs Director Ellen Dressler Moryl to join the band (under the direction of Libkin).

"Ellen is actually an accomplished cellist," Schlitt says. "When I spoke to her she said, 'I don't have the time, but this show means a lot to me, so I'm going to be there.'"

And so it goes.

"There's a lot of funny in the show," says Schlitt. "A lot of the city's musical theater heavyweights will be dropping by for cameos, for walk-on parts. There are so many alumni involved, many of them are part of the choir."

Still, fans shouldn't expect the farewell edition to veer too far from the successful format of previous years. It's still an hour-long show with 18 to 19 acts on stage.

"We always believed if you can't do the job of entertaining people in an hour, you haven't done your job," he says.

"We try to listen to our audience, and there's a demographic out there that just wants to be entertained for an hour, and anything beyond that is just too long. We figure if Garrison Keillor can do it in two hours over the radio, we can do it in person in one."

Of course, the director's annual spoken-word piece ("Ain't that the Schlitts?") has a farewell-and-goodbye theme, and Schlitt appears once again with his daughter, Joanna.

"We've done that every year since we started, so people have seen her since she was eight," he says. "Now she's 17 and doesn't need me anymore. She can stand on her own. So there's some sentimentality to it, too."

Not that the sentiment runs rampant.

"I don't take this all too seriously," Schlitt says. "It's entertainment."

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