Music, magic and mayhem

Cap’n Johnny’s Whiz Bang brings the burlesque

 By Benjamin Smith

Photo: [l to r] See Sunny Wonderland and Cap’n Johnny Business during the Cap’n Johnny’s Whiz Bang at Gilly’s on Sept. 13; photo: Jennifer Taylor Clarke

Let’s face it: we’re all jaded. Hardly anything surprises us, entertains us. The present can be dull, maybe even pathetic. Thankfully, a local trio of show organizers – Juliet Fromholt, Thomas Nealeigh and Matt Brassfield – decided to look back to the wooly, sepia-toned past for artistic inspiration. The result? Cap’n Johnny’s Whiz Bang, a monthly act that “brings the best in variety, vaudeville, burlesque, sideshow, magic, comedy and more,” to Dayton. Fromholt chatted with the Dayton City Paper about the show and its upcoming Friday the 13th performance at Gilly’s.

First of all, that’s quite the name for a variety show. 

It’s a play on the title of “Cap’n Billy’s Whiz Bang” – a comedy magazine from the 1920s famous for its raucous, “low-brow” humor, and mentioned in “The Music Man.” Cap’n Johnny is our host and emcee, and Whiz Bang, when spelled “whizbang,” is appropriate for our show: conspicuous for noise, success or startling effect. –Juliet Fromholt

You have a show scheduled for Friday, Sept. 13. What can people expect?

On Sept. 13, audiences will be treated to the illusions of Kaleb Kane, a fantastic young magician who is well on his way to being a household name. At 7’4”, Big Mike will amaze and astound with feats of strength. House band Todd the Fox will keep us moving and grooving. Our burlesque door girl, the lovely Miss Lucy Fern, will dazzle the crowd and the audience will have a chance to play our game show: What’s in Sunny Wonderland’s Box? We’re very excited to be joined by Miss Theresa, a burlesque dancer from the Columbus Burlesque Collective, and Abernathy, a belly dancer and sideshow arts performer. To top it all off, we’ll get wild with our featured musical guest, Nightbeast. That’s really just a taste of what’s to come … we always like to keep a few surprises up our collective sleeves. -JF

Nighbeast certainly sounds like an appropriate band for Friday the 13th. 

Nightbeast is kind of this perfect musical storm of pure rock n’ roll and danceable hip-hop, with a comedy twist. Their shows are always super high-energy, and translate well with audiences. Nick Testa (singer) has been really supportive of Whiz Bang over the last year, so I’m really happy to have Nightbeast on this bill on Friday the 13th, which happens to be Nick’s birthday. -JF

How do modern audiences connect to certain “old-fashioned” elements of the show? 

The “old-fashioned” elements are almost the most popular because, to most modern audiences, they’re brand new. Although burlesque has certainly been making more of a pop culture comeback in recent years in movies, a lot of people haven’t experienced it live. When you’re seeing it live and you’re caught up in that give-and-take of energy between performer and audience, it’s all very immediate, so it’s almost hard to think of it as “old-fashioned.” -JF

How do you find and choose performers? 

Performers come to us in many different ways. Thomas has connections all over the country. He produced variety shows at his theater and other venues in Hollywood, Calif., for years. He has a good feel for talent and what “works” in a show. He’s also been doing a lot of work locally to reach out to street performers and help provide opportunities for them to begin developing their skills. As a local filmmaker/TV producer, Matt works with a lot of local actors and musicians on projects, and I’ve been working with local musicians in a variety of roles for over 10 years, including interviewing them on WYSO’s Kaleidoscope music show. Now that the show is more established, we have performers coming to us with ideas. -JF

In what ways has the show evolved since it started? 

As a production team, Matt, Thomas and I have gotten a chance to really figure out our individual strengths and weaknesses and how to support each other, and thus build a better show. It’s been my pleasure to watch our regular performers grow and evolve over the past year as they challenge themselves and grow their acts. I feel like we’ve all really learned how to think on our toes because at the end of the day, no matter how well we plan, it’s a live show. -JF

What is a typical audience like? 

It sounds cliché, but our audience is made up of a variety of types of people. Many people find us because of one performer who sounds interesting, and they end up being surprised by what we have to offer. Dayton used to have a whole district of variety theaters – we’ve gotten kudos from some older folks who remember those days and are thrilled to have this sort of show back! -JF

Finally, what does the near future hold for Cap’n Johnny’s Whiz Bang ? 

We’re taking October off as our “holiday” break. All of our regular performers and organizers have longstanding commitments for the Halloween season. When we return in November, we’ll be celebrating our first anniversary. While we don’t have details quite firmed up enough to talk about, it’s going to be a special show. -JF

Cap’n Johnny’s Whiz Bang takes place Friday, Sept. 13, at Gilly’s, 132 S. Jefferson St. Showtime is 9 p.m. Tickets are $7. For more information, call 937.228.8414 or visit


Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Smith at


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