Creating The Wizard of Friendship – An Interview with Lewberger

By Kat Mokrynski

Lewberger is a “handsome 3-man comedy band” made up of Keith Habersberger, Alex Lewis, and Hughie Stone Fish. The three have gone viral online, have appeared on several television shows, and have toured across the United States. In their latest adventure, Lewberger is currently starring in their own off-Broadway show, Lewberger & The Wizard of Friendship: The Musical. After getting in a fight that causes a rift in the friendship, the group is sent by the Wizard of Friendship to NoFriendia, where they will have to work together to make it through places like the Handsome Forest and the Adults-only Haunted House. 

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Lewberger about their upcoming off-Broadway show, The Wizard of Friendship. We discussed their love for both music and comedy, their creative process for the two shows, and the horror of Wee Sing, a series that has haunted children’s nightmares for forty years. 

So what made you all want to get involved in the world of musical comedy?

Alex: Well, we each come from comedy backgrounds in general. We’re all huge fans of Weird Al. When I was a kid, Weird Al was one of the first albums I bought. It was one of the first albums that Keith bought as well! [Laughs] We’re huge fans of Flight of the Conchords, all sorts of musical comedy acts have really inspired us, and the three of us all come from different schools of improv and comedy. When we met in Los Angeles, it really brought us together and inspired us to start our own musical comedy group. It’s just a nice way of having a living doing things that are fun!

Do you find that you have a preference for the musical or the comedy aspect?

Hughie: We all have different relationships and music and comedy, but it’s all the same in that we love both so much. It’s something that we love to do. And Lewberger has tried to bring both the music and the comedy aspect to its fullest potential. We think that musical jokes are the funniest when the music is done at the highest level and vice versa – The music is better when the jokes are the funniest. So we really just tried to the best of our ability to bring it as far as it can go.

Alex: One thing we’ve really embraced is musical theatre in general, because we’re also musical theatre fans. So now, bringing that not only into this musical, but into what we do in our regular concert, our touring show, has been a major influence. It’s a place that musical comedy existed in a big way before us, obviously, so they’ve embraced it.

So how did y’all first come up with the concept for The Wizard of Friendship?

Keith: Specials have gotten very interesting in the last few years, especially with Bo Burnham’s, Inside and various standup artists doing different things with their specials. So we wanted to look at ourselves and what literally makes us special as an act. What it is is that we’re very theatrical. When we do our shows on the road, you could describe our show as musical theatre – We’re not putting on a musical, but we’re doing musical theatre! So we thought, “Well, if we’re doing musical theatre, why not put on a musical?” So we wanted to shape our special to have a story through line that goes through all the songs we perform on the road, but shape a goofy, whimsical story to get us there. All of us grew up being fans of musicals, but also watching these things that just taught children folk songs, specifically, there’s one called Wee Sing . . . 


Keith: It has this perfect balance – It’s not trying to be horrifying, but 

It is! 

Keith: [Laughs] It is! We wanted to try to thread that needle with our show. So it has these really “out there” moments and it has these really sweet, touching moments. It has the vibe of a low-budget 90s VHS turned into a stage musical. But we’ve really gone above and beyond to make it feel somewhere between a rock concert and a musical. It’s a sensory overload, for better or for worse.

So what is the creative process been like specifically for The Wizard of Friendship? How has it changed compared to your previous work?

Hughie: Something we’ve been talking about a lot for this show is dividing and conquering, and unifying and conquering, and how we, as a group, utilize both of those collaborative tools to make things happen. There’s been a lot of dividing and conquering for this show. We have a whole album that we’re making with it and we’re performing the songs to the track. I’m co-producing the album – Of course, we’re all working on the album. Everyone’s singing and working, giving feedback, Keith is playing horns, and Alex has played some guitars. But I’ve been really taking the brunt of that where, Alex is taking the brunt of getting that script ready, getting everything written that needs to get written. Keith is directing, so he’s and making all the projections for the show. So we’ve really been, in that way, dividing and conquering because there’s just so so much to do. But we’ve also been unifying and conquering in a lot of ways as well.

Keith: And in terms of what makes this different is I think this show encapsulates everything we know how to do artistically. We’re showing everything we’ve learned in our 30 something years of life that could be performative or unique, and are combining it and funneling it into this. We were up until about two in the morning just making these little musical stings we don’t have to have in the show, but we thought they’d be funny. So we got back from our 12-hour tech and worked for about three more hours, just to make three thirty-second moments a little funnier.

So I actually had a question for you, Keith – In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned how you’ve been working on the virtual parts of the show like the projections. I was wondering what it’s been like bringing the onstage and the virtual aspects of the production together.

Keith: It’s great, because yesterday we finally got to start seeing numbers that were filled with projection and the lighting designed by our lighting designer Yang Yu. I’ve been working on the projections since November because I knew how long it would take to build two hours of video stuff. Mostly it’s sourcing, like stock footage libraries, but combining together and layering them and playing with opacity, so that they feel like a music festival, like projection show, but also feel like backdrops for a musical. We have a small stage so I didn’t want any set pieces eating up the little bit of real estate that we had – It’s all in that virtual look. But what’s great about that is it allows for things to be very fantastical, but also we’re generating art as well. We can have things look more real and have some things look more cartoonish and have it all flow. There’s one number where it’s “Giant Bird In A Man Suit” and the projections are filled with these crazy looking bird people. It’s this overwhelming thing. On the projections, these bird people are like, eight feet tall, so it’s kind of insane, but it’s been very fun! I’m very good at video editing and I don’t do that as much anymore – On Try Guys, we have a wonderful editing staff that does a great job. So it was fun to get back in there and start creating and playing around in that space again.

So how have you all been preparing to perform both The Wizard of Friendship and Lewberger in Concert at the same time?

Alex: It’s been a lot of different preparing methods in general – We all are wearing a lot of hats in this. For the show, we’ve had to not only earn dance from our Broadway cast choreographer [Nico DeJesus], we have had to memorize all these lines, we’ve had to really hone in on singing with our ensemble . . . Obviously, when we’re doing our concert, we’re pretty keyed in at this point as far as singing harmonies. It doesn’t take us long to pick things up and memorize things. Now, we have to incorporate a whole other group of five people and that’s been very different than what we’re used to. We are learning to dance more correctly than we would dance.

Everyone: [Laughs]

Alex: I’ve had to key in to tap skills that I haven’t used since I was like, eight years old. And now I’m back into that and I’ve lost a lot of progress in the twenty years that I haven’t been tap dancing! So I’ve had to try to practice that a lot more. And then for the show, it’s not our regular concert anymore. Our concert before this off-Broadway run, there were no projections, it was just us messing around. It’s a fantastic show and you should totally come see it, but it wasn’t to the degree that it is now. We’ve got these amazing new backing tracks, we’ve got our normal instrumentation that we’re doing as well, we have these amazing projections that Keith created for our concert. It’s like a whole new show!

Keith: What gives us the ability to do that is being in one place. We’re typically a touring act, so we roll up into a city at 4:00 PM, we quickly do a tech, we adapt to the space we’re performing in whether that’s a comedy club, or a concert hall, or restaurant, whatever it is that has hired us to play music, and we do our show conformed to that space. But now, we have our own space and the space is conforming to what we want to do. Because of that, we get to do a lot more. And because we don’t have to schlep all of our stuff across the country, I can have three horns at the show, where I normally can only travel with one instrument. Normally, Hughie has to choose if he’s bringing his piano or his accordion – Now we have both! So we get to have all of our musical desires that we want when we do our live show. But as Alex said, now we have projections, we can do more little costume changes, we can make it even more of the musical theatre experience that our show wants to be.

What is your favorite line that you’ve come up with for The Wizard of Friendship?

I don’t know what the rating of your article is, but there’s one that I think is really funny that’s “Cock be my witness”. [Laughs] It is a line from FlimFlam the Sausage Man who is a sausage and not a penis, but at this point in the show, he is coming to terms with the fact that he is a penis and he’s been lying all this time. “He’s a dick unworthy of forgiveness, cock be my witness.” And it’s just so perfectly dumb, and then what Hughie has done to make it so much funnier and dumber is the ensemble has this very staccato, [Sings] “Cock! I’m a dick!” And it just treats this really, really dumb song with 100% of the musical investment that it doesn’t really deserve to have. So that one really gets me because it’s taken very seriously. And the word “cock” is very intense and somehow it doesn’t feel that way in this song – It really is lovely. What are your favorites?

Alex: One of my favorite lines is actually an improvised line by one of our ensemble. We’re in the very intimidatingly Handsome Forest and we foolishly mistake that there are three handsome boys as opposed to four handsome boys. And one of us says, “Wow, three equally handsome boys!” And our cast member who plays The Wizard says, “Did I just hear an odd number?” [Laughs] That really makes me laugh.

Hughie: You know, every line that gets on stage is my favorite. Every every moment that we share up there is my favorite.

Keith: There’s some great wordplay across the show. Like I said, sometimes we’re up very late at night, we did this one, it’s like a 30-second cue of us singing the entire incorrect title of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Extended Edition 4-Disc DVD Set, but we sing that in a very Monty Python chordal-style acapella and it ends with [Sings high-pithced note] like in a church. It’s very goofy. I think that what is great about the show is finding how to take little lines and turn them into really fun big moments.

Alex: That’s something about Lewberger in general. We didn’t have to work on that stupid thing, but it was important to us because we think that will be a big laugh line for this thing that will make people smile and enjoy the show.

What do you hope audiences will take away from The Wizard of Friendship?

Hughie: I really hope audiences will have a great time. I want them to leave and just have laughed a lot. The show’s supposed to be funny the whole time – Even the sad moments are supposed to be funny! Even when it gets sad and intense and it’s the big, “I’m a dick” song that we’ve been building up to and this beautiful lament and everything, it’s supposed to be hilarious. So I’m really hoping audiences leave just having had a great time.

Keith: And selfishly, I hope they’re like, “Wow, that’s the best comedy musical thing I’ve ever seen!”

Everyone: [Laughs]

Keith: I don’t know if they will. I definitely think people will walk out saying, “Well, I’ve never seen anything like that before.” And I hope they mean that in a good way!

And finally, how would each of you describe the show in one word?

Hughie: Nutso-butso.

Alex: Transcendent

Keith: And, friendship!

Thank you to Alex, Hughie, and Keith for the interview and to Beth Jacobsen for arranging it

Lewberger & The Wizard of Friendship: The Musical and Lewberger in Concert are running at the off-Broadway Theatre Row from 23 February to 26 March. The Wizard of Friendship is currently sold out but tickets to Lewberger in Concert can be purchased here.


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