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Laughter in bloom

Jack Benny will live again in Fayetteville this weekend when Eddie Carroll's one man show Jack Benny: Laughter in Bloom graces the stage in the Wellwood Middle School auditorium Aug. 4 through 6. The show leads off the season for Summerstage, a production company founded by Fayetteville native Jason Cicci.

I've always thought that the theatre was the best way to educate, and I've wanted to begin mounting biographical plays for a while, Cicci said. I thought that Eddie's show would be the perfect show to start with.

Carroll, also known as the voice of Disney's Jiminy Cricket since the 1970s, has performed as Jack Benny since 1983.

What I do on stage is not an act; it's not an impression, Carroll said. It's an evening of Jack Benny sharing his life story with the audience.

Carroll perfected his recreation of Benny by poring over footage from Benny's television show, which aired for 10 years, to reconstruct Benny's carriage and body language. He exercised his facial muscles in order to get his expressions exactly right. Carroll grew up listening to Benny's radio show, which aired for 23 years. Painstakingly, he mimicked Benny's voice, comic timing and turns of phrase. According to Carroll, the result of his efforts is breathtaking.

The audience instantly buys the fact that it is Jack Benny, he said. The show gets them to see him again, instead of remembering.

Carroll had the opportunity to meet Benny in the 1970s, working on TV farewell special. That interaction confirmed for Carroll that his early idolization of the radio star was well-placed.

He was the most approachable star you would ever meet, Carroll said. He made you feel immediately like you'd known each other forever. There was no pretentiousness about him.

Carroll claims that, as a classically trained actor, more than 20 years of being Jack Benny has not affected who he is, but an hour-long phone interview from his home in California reveals that he exhibits many of the traits he admires in Benny, and he incorporates those values into the show. After the performance, Carroll mingles with the audience in the lobby, reinforcing Benny's accessibility.

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