'Wallace & Ladmo' stage show honors iconic Arizona children's program

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- If you grew up in Arizona between the mid 1950s and the late 1980s, you know exactly who Wallace and Ladmo are. And you probably wanted a Ladmo Bag. Heck, you might still want a Ladmo Bag. I do. So does 3TV's April Warnecke.

She admitted as much when she sat down with Ben Tyler, the man behind a stage show that pays homage to "The Wallace & Ladmo Show," a unique and somewhat unorthodox children's variety program that ran on then-unaffiliated KPHO Channel 5 from 1954 all the way until 1989 -- more than 35 years.

"If you grew up with 'The Wallace & Ladmo Show,' you'll know what this is about," said Tyler, who wrote and directs the stage show. "If you didn't, I still think you'll find this rather interesting."

But the play isn't just about the iconic TV show that touched the lives of thousands of Arizona kids, influencing them in so many ways.

"'The Wallace & Ladmo Show' really becomes sort of a metaphor for success and how we measure success in our lives," Tyler explained. "In this case, for these guys, it was doing this crazy kids' show."

One of the unique things about Wallace and Ladmo was that they never talked down to the kids in their live audiences.

"They never said, 'Hi, boys and girls.' It was always, 'Hey, gang!' and that included the adults, as well as the kids," Tyler said.

Bill Thompson was Wallace. His grandson takes the mantle for the stage show.

"That sounds like something that may have been preplanned, but honestly, it wasn't," Tyler said. "He just showed up at the audition and I took one look at him and I thought, 'Wow! This guy really looks like Wallace!' We had him read for it and he was tremendous. It was just one of those things that turned out to be great."

Pat McMahon, also known as Gerald, Boffo the Clown and Aunt Maud, among others, will be involved "at least a little bit," Tyler said, explaining that there are plenty of surprises in store.

There will even be the opportunity to get that much-coveted Ladmo Bag.

"We're giving out six Ladmo Bags at every performance," Tyler said. "We have lucky-seat winners. You never know who it's going to be. That reason alone is worth the price of admission.

"I think people are going to have a lot of fun with this," Tyler continued. "You don't need to know anything about Wallace and Ladmo to appreciate this story. It's just a funny story."

There are just 15 performances of "The Wallace & Ladmo Show," June 1-17, at the Herberger Theater, which is located at Second and Van Buren streets in downtown Phoenix. Tickets run between $24 and $40.

Tickets are available online at www.actorstheatrephx.org or at the Herberger Theater Center Box Office.