Classic comedies take WCU back in time

The first Galaxy of Stars production of 2010 at Western Carolina University’s Fine and Performing Arts Center took audience members back in time to the 1920’s when silent film stars ruled the theaters.

“The Clown Princes,” began at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31, and featured three short films starring Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. The magic of the performance truly came from the 15-member Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, who accompanied each film.

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra (PRO) is the world’s only professional ensemble that specializes in recreating “America’s Original Music”- the sounds of early musical theater, “silent” cinema, and vintage ballroom dancing.

Conducted by Rick Benjamin, who introduces the movies with a combination of narration and humor, the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra is the only orchestra touring in America that plays the original scores to the films.

PRO came into being upon Rick Benjamin’s discovery of thousands of early 1900’s orchestra scores of the Victor recording star Arthur Pryor.

Films on the program are Buster Keaton’s “The Play House” from 1921,Harold Lloyd’s “Get Out and Get Under” from 1920 and Charlie Chaplin’s “Behind the Screen” from 1916.

The unique performance has received enthusiastic reviews from critics, especially regarding the shows founder/conductor.

“Rick Benjamin is a musician of wit and sensibility,” said the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Despite the selling of 740 tickets at WCU’s box office, only a mere 200 or so were able to attend the event due to unfit weather conditions. But to those 200 who managed to venture out, they were most likely enthused by this performance.

  PRO has acquired a considerable following both in the U.S. and abroad through its radio programs on the New York Times’ WQXR and other radios, and has been heard on the soundtracks of several feature films and television programs.

  Stay tuned for the next Galaxy of Stars 2009-10 update, as Tom Mullica’s tribute to Red Skelton will take place on Sunday, Feb. 14, and the Ballet Magnificat! production of “The Hiding Place” premiere’s on Sunday, April 18.