Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

More On Abner, Plus ArtWalk And IWA East Coast In Pictures

The PopCulteer
March 19, 2010

Setting the record straight.

Last week I wrote about the proposed production of the musical “Lil’ Abner,” which is slated to star Charleston’s mayor, Danny Jones. There were a few misconceptions on my part, and a couple of attempts at subterfuge by people in the comments section of this blog. Mayor Jones took the time to contact me to clear up a few things, and in the interest of fairness and accuracy, I am going to revisit this topic.

First, I still think the idea of Mayor Jones playing the lead role is a bad one. I also think that billing this as a “reunion” when the original female lead is not a willing participant is a mistake. It would be like holding a reunion of Hall and Oates, without Hall. If you recall, my long-time girlfriend, Melanie Larch, the co-star of the 1986 production of “Lil’ Abner,” was asked to be involved with this “reunion.” She declined. She thought it was a bad idea, but kept quiet about it out of respect to the other parties involved.

However, there was increasing pressure being applied by the publicist for this project, and Melanie felt like she was being bullied. She was afraid that she was going to be punished for saying “no.” She clearly told the publicist that she simply did not want to issue any statement, and didn’t want her name even mentioned in connection with this production.

So, when this publicist okay-ed the release of an old photo of Melanie to be used in the Daily Mail it was clear that Melanie’s wishes would never be respected, and it was time for her to publicly state that she was not going to be involved in this production. This was an agonizing decision for Melanie to make, since she didn’t want to do anything that could be seen as anti-Kanawha Players, the organization for whom this production is to be staged to benefit.

The publicist in question left a comment on this blog last Monday that was a monumental study in how not to behave publicly. I had the post removed from public view because it’s sheer length (over 4,500 words) strained the technical capabilities of this blog, but it was also an act of kindness toward the author, who clearly acted in haste while creating such a vile document.

Saner heads prevailed, and Mayor Jones offered to clear up what he saw as factual inaccuracies in my reporting. In my defense, my information came from some of the people involved in the production, as well as the Daily Mail article.

Here is Mayor Jones’ statement:

“About five years ago I received a call from Jay Goldman informing me that Kanawha Payers needed to sell their Kanawha City building to stay afloat. Jay said he would forgo his commission so I bought the property for $90,000. I became aware that the money for the building would not begin to take care of the financial challenges faced by KP, so I suggested doing Lil’ Abner again to generate interest and money. The group was not receptive to my idea so I forgot about it.

“This past Thanksgiving I ran into Beach Vickers mother and we reminisced about doing Lil’ Abner. Sometime after the first of the year (I think) I received a call from Melody Ison and we had a conference call with Beach and some of the other folks at KP. We decided to do the show this fall. To make it work I would have to raise at least $25,000, to which I received a commitment for $5,000 this morning. If I am able to raise the money, then any money we make by putting people in the seats is complete surplus. Therefore, maybe we don’t do as well as last time, but are able to have 500 people a performance; we could raise thousands over three weekends.

“About the pictures: The pictures are mine and were on the walls of three different restaurants and had been seen by thousands of people. I submitted those pictures (among others) to the Daily Mail and they were picked for the story. The intention of Lil’ Abner committee is not to hurt feelings but to save KP and generate interest. I hope people will come see this show and even come out for part in the show if they are so inclined.

“Finally, I have thought about the age factor where I am concerned. If there is a younger man that auditions for the show and it is believed he can carry the part, I will stand back and perform some other part or even work backstage. I understand the concerns. I hope folks will put aside bad feelings they may have about me and consider giving the show a try if we are able to pull this off.”

That last paragraph is an important one. It shows that Mayor Jones is not oblivious to the age issue. Whether or not the Reunion Committee at Kanawha Players is willing to hold open auditions remains to be seen. Personally, I would like to see them stop calling it a “reunion.”  “Revival” is a perfectly acceptable word, and in this case, it’s more appropriate.

Also, while the Mayor takes the blame for releasing the photos in question, in her 4,500-word manifesto, the publicist also took the blame. Either way,  it was wrong to use her photo against her wishes, and it would be appropriate for KP to apologize to Melanie, and make sure it never happens again.

I also think it would be appropriate for Kanawha Players to disassociate themselves from the publicist in question, as well as the other party who saw fit to try and anonymously attack Melanie in the comments of this blog. Allowing them to remain involved with this show sends a message that KP condones their behavior.

And I owe Kanawha Players an apology for attributing to their entire organization the actions of some members of this “Reunion” committee, who were apparently acting independently of KP. In the interest of clearing the air, this is not a case of Danny Jones cutting a check in return for a starring role. He is raising the money from friends ($10,000 so far) and will probably make up the difference if he can’t raise the entire projected budget of $25,000.

I still question whether the show will draw well enough to be worth the effort. I know that it will stand a better chance of being a good show if there is an open and honest audition process.  One of the most offensive things about this production was the pre-casting. Members of the reunion committee have been heard in public bragging about which role they were going to play.  This created a lot of negativity toward the project among other area performers who may not trust the audition process.

This will be my last word on the subject, barring any further mental breakdowns by involved parties in my comments section. Melanie’s last word on this is that she is not involved in this revival. She was never going to be involved with it. She hopes KP does well.

The First ArtWalk Of 2010

We were blessed with gorgeous weather for the first ArtWalk of the year Thursday night, and here, with minimal captions (because this is being put together at 1 AM) is ArtWalk in pictures.

Terrific work at The Art Emporium by Gerry Enrico (third from the left, above)

Prints by the late Felix Krasyk at The Purple Moon.

Some of the great glass at The Purple Moon is seen above, while new glass works by Sharon Lyn Stackpole are seen below.

Scenes from the last ArtWalk on Hale Street for Callen McJunkin Galleries.

The Good News Mountaineer Garage was packed with people looking at the photographs of West Virginia’s Blugrass musicians.

Cool work by Ian Bode, Ron Hinkle and Chet Lowther at Visions Day Spa.

ArtWalk welcomes Romano Associates gallery to the fold. It was an impressive debut, with K.D. Lett’s photography, Robin McClintock’s paintings and more.

Also at Romano & Associates, very impressive chemical valley landscapes by Cristofer Niklus Botkin.

Taylor Books is showcasing some awesome prints by  Mary Grassell, Ben Kafton,Amanda Gordon Miller and others.

Erin Go Bloody

Wednesday night saw IWA East Coast return to Nitro, with an evening of incredible action and wild moves. Here are some highlights:

One of the big surprises was the return of former IWA Champ, Chris Hero, who won a triple-threat match to set up a title match against Roderick Strong at the next show, on May 12.

Elkview Adam, still smarting after a beating at the hands of Bull Pain.

Just another day at the office.

Omega Aaron Draven and Woody Numbers enter the arena.

Jason Kincaid, going in for the kill (he missed).

Sami Callihan in flight.

Mad Man Pondo introduces J.C. Bailey to the barbwire-wrapped baseball bat as referee Drew and the Smart Mark cameraman look on.

Necrobutcher (featured in the movie, “The Wrestler” with Mickey Rourke) gets in a chair shot to the gut of WCW legend, Kevin Sullivan.

Next week in PopCult

Sunday Evening Videos, Monday Morning Art, RFC 96 with WATT 4 and a song from Romeo and Juliet: a Rock Opera and the return of the cool comic of the week in The PopCulteer. Be here to see it all, wills you?


  1. Mountain Woman Phd

    Thank you so much for covering ArtWalk. I was unable to attend last night and was hoping you’d run photos.

    I hope you and Melanie can put the ugly “Lil’ Abner” episode behind you. I, unfortunately, read the comment left by Melody Ison before it was deleted last week, and I think you handled a clearly disturbed person in a classy manner. A lesser person would have been tempted to leave that awful rant available for the public to see, just so it would ruin the life of the sad woman who wrote it.

    Thank you again for all you do to support the arts in this town.

  2. Jeanann Leone


    Thank you for publishing Danny Jones history of the Lil Abner production. I also want to clarify a couple of things. Melody Ison is not the publicist for this show. Also, it is true that I was asked to be the assistant director, but it is not a paid position, so I have nothing to gain by the show being produced.

  3. Denise Short

    You defend your girlfriend, Melanie-I defend my sister, Melody. She said not to, but you still don’t have all the info-so I have to chime in. I’m Denise, by the way.

    First, inside info-Melody had never even READ a BLOG before-let alone answered one. I told her when I read it-probably no one else would cause it was too long. She was just all tore up & kept typing.

    But, to my points-first, the only publicity Melody has been involved in, so far, is getting caught up in this picture fiasco. Melody was asked her opinion & she TRULY thought Melanie would feel ostracized if 3 out of 4 of the 1986 ‘Lil Abner’ leads were pictured-but NOT Melanie. And, the thing is, anyone (including Melanie) who knows Melody, knows that she worries to death about people’s feelings…

    Sadly, that is the reason they discussed ‘Lil Abner’ in the 1st place. I “heard” Melody’s entire side of the conversations all 3 times she talked to Melanie because we share a house & they played phone tag. And Melody only spoke to Melanie in the 1st place about the show…cause some other actor TOLD Melody (knowing she IS involved with the Lil Abner deal and that she & Melanie at least used to be friends) that Melanie was upset. I heard Melody saying things for example like: “Well, be Daisy if you want to & don’t if you don’t, the heck (well she didn’t actually say heck) with what other people think…you do what YOU want to do!” & she said “be on the casting committee if you want to or not, hon” etc. That is the gospel of how the conversations went… cause I was waiting impatiently with the DVR controller in my hand to restart our shows both times.

    The 3rd time Melody called to apologize to Melanie (cause Melanie’s name had been left off the picture & Melody was afraid Melanie would feel slighted). Now, that is when Melanie FINALLY told Melody how she felt. I remember because of the look on Melody’s face-she was SHOCKED! The 1st 2 times they spoke, Melody KNEW Melanie didn’t like the reunion concept but Melody got the impression it was because of what other people were saying. It would have made things a lot different if Melody (& everyone) had known how Melanie felt in the 1st place.

    I’d really appreciate it if you’d allow this to post-after all, it is YOUR BLOG…and it sounds “she said-she said.” But, here is a really important question . WHY did someone tell you that the Reunion Committee has been heard bragging about their roles in Lil Abner because-NO ONE on the reunion committee was IN the 1st show and so THEY HAVE NO ROLES TO BRAG ABOUT….except Melody (& she has said to all involved that if she doesn’t lose 40 or so pounds by summer-she’s not even going TO DO her old part). And, only 1 of the reunion committee is even interested in auditioning for a part, the others are working back stage or in support-not ON stage. So HOW could this one group of people have heard this other group of people brag about something they don’t even have or want?

    Last thing, not sure if it came from speculation or what-but word is, “Beach” has NEVER said ONE bad thing about Melanie’s acting-ever-to anyone-just FYI-and Thanks for letting me clear some things up if you do. I hope these clarifications end

  4. Rudy Panucci


    I appreciate your shorter response. I stand by what I wrote. I trust my sources.

    Melanie was never interested in being involved with this show, and only spoke to Melody because Melody called repeatedly and was insistant on speaking with Melanie about the matter.

    Melody identified herself as the person doing publicity for the show. That’s where this information came from. She has claimed responsibility for releasing the photos in question. That’s what a publicist does.

    Melanie was approached by Beach Vickers,said “no,” mentioned that she thought it was a bad idea, and didn’t participate in the conference call. That should have made it clear. She should have been left alone. If Melody hadn’t been so persistant about wanting her call returned, Melanie would not have bothered talking to her at all.

    I don’t buy the story about “another actor” saying that Melanie was upset. Mel didn’t want to discuss this matter with anyone and asked me not to write about because she wanted to be left alone. She kept her mouth shut and only discussed it with me. If someone said that Melanie was upset, it was a fantasy. She was saddened and disappointed because she thought it was a bad idea, but it had nothing to do with what other people would think. It was because of the age of the proposed star, and Mel’s long-standing problem with shows being pre-cast.

    You say you heard half the conversation, but I believe Melanie when she says that it was like talking to a brick wall. You forget, I still have a copy of the 4,500-word post, and can determine from that how stable and reasonable the author is.

    Melody seemed intent on getting Melanie to make a statement that she did not want to make. If, after all that talk, Melody really thought that Melanie would have felt left out if her picture was not included in the paper, then it just proves that she was not listening to a word Melanie said.

    For your sister to then post a 4,500-word diatribe in a public forum–one that slandered Melanie and me and contradicted itself with every other paragraph–it’s the work of a sick mind. I can only have pity for someone who could vomit up such a disgusting document and think it was appropriate for public display.

    When Melanie called me, right after getting off the phone with your sister the second time, she was frustrated and asked, “What part of ‘no’ do these people not understand?”

    To Jeanneann–I never said that the position of assistant director was a paid position, however, it should have been disclosed when you made your original post. You jumped on me for having a personal stake, yet you tried to hide your own.

  5. Longtime Listener

    It’s a shame to see this nonsense over the idiotic Lil Abner show overshadow two great photo essays. Nobody else can straddle the cultural divide between high art and hardcore wrestling like Rudy.

    To the ladies involved with the show, get a freakin’ grip. You sound a little nutso. All this attention will just sell more tickets to Danny’s freakshow anyway.

  6. Mexican Romeo

    The chemical plant painting and the prints from Taylor’s look incredible. I gotta do that ArtWalk thing sometime.

    But no comics this week? Boooo!

  7. Matt Salazar

    Aside from morbid curiosity over thst post you had to delete, I’m bored with the Lil’ Abner crap. Dollar Danny’s going to do whatever he wants, common sense be damned.

    You should have focused more on the return of ArtWalk. Your photos are great, but they only scratch the surface. Gerry’s work at Art Emporium is awesome, and you never run pictures from Gallery Eleven.

    I also miss the cool comic. You’ve been pretty unpredictable with your picks.

    But you need to keep your chin up, Rudy. Nobody else in town is doing anything like PopCult and Radio Free Charleston.

  8. Longtime Listener

    Hey Rudy, have you considered the possibility that the continued comments about the Abner crap is just a way for them to whip up a controversy so they can sell more tickets?

  9. Elvis Capone

    Little Abner just ate a radioactive fuel rod and became Large Abner! Hey hey hey.

  10. Adrienne

    Hey Longtime Listener,

    Regarding your first post..I coudn’t have said it better myslef! GET A GRIP AND GROW UP. I’m not sure I’ve read something so blown out of proportion in all of my life. Matt Salazar is right..more positive things, such as ArtWalk need to be given more focus in this “Popcult” blog.

  11. Mountain Woman Phd.

    In fairness to Rudy, Adrienne, he writes about the postive artistic goings-on in this town most of the time. It’s rare that he covers something in a less-than-postive light. When he does, it stands out more because of his record of supporting the local arts scenes and his positive attitude in general.

    Seeing the reactions of the people involved with the Lil’ Abner show, he seems to have really struck a nerve. I’m glad he wrote about it, because it exposed the mindsets of some people who I will think twice about supporting with my dollars.

  12. Kevin Pauley

    The problem I’m seeing here is that people are assuming the actions of a few people are how the entire board at Kanawha Players feels. That is not always the case.

    Please do not allow this to sour your opinion of Kanawha Players as the organization needs the community’s support now more than ever.

    Remember that KP was named by our Governor in the 1950s as “The State’s Official Theater.” It’s coming upon its 90th Season soon, a feat that no other community theater group in the state can come close to. It’s one of the three longest-running community theater groups in the country, as KP was actually still putting on shows during WWII when most community theater groups shut down.

    Above all else, just remember this – Kanawha Players is more than a person or a few people. It’s a wonderful entity that exists to entertain and to encourage people to try their hand at theater, be they a stage veteran or someone auditioning for the very first time. Maybe they love painting or building – then they can help with the set. Perhaps a person loves sewing and stitching – they can help with costumes. The opportunities for everyday normal citizens to get involved are limitless.

    This whole thing has been blown out of proportion based on the actions of a few at KP. When everyone steps back and cooler heads prevail, I think all involved can eventually forgive and forget.

    People get passionate about things they love. KP is made up of volunteers, people who have a passion for theater and want to see this organization continue to create live theater for the Charleston area. When people are passionate about something, and that thing is in danger of dying out, they can get very defensive and that can lead to overreaction, which is what I honestly believe has happened here.

    Rudy has been a strong KP supporter and I know that other than this Lil’ Abner situation he will continue to be just that. I hope that the rest of you can do the same.

    I understand the hurt feelings and the anger from all of this. I just hope folks can look at KP as a whole and see that it’s still a group worth supporting and preserving in West Virginia.

    I’ll step off my soapbox now. Thanks for reading.

  13. Mountain Woman Phd.

    Mr. Pauley, I agree with what you wrote. (And you were wonderful in “12 Angry Men,” BTW)

    I’ve been attending KP shows for decades, and I hope to do so again in the future.

    But I hope that the people in charge take some action to distance themselves from the individuals who posted such hateful and hurtful things here in this blog. I don’t know if you saw the comment from Melody Ison during the brief time it was posted here, but it was shocking in its content. It was nothing more than a lengthy personal slur against Rudy and Ms. Larch. I felt dirty reading it.

    Until KP condemns that behavior publicly, I don’t think I can support them. I hate it, but that comment was so far over the line that I feel I have no choice.

  14. Kevin Pauley

    Thank you for the kind words. I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s hard to hold an organization accountable for the actions of one person.

    I’m certain that KP will gladly apologize and will do what I can to let board members I know to do so. Hopefully they can do it right here on this blog, where all the problems started.

    Please don’t let one person ruin an entire organization and its legacy for you. If we did that, how many of us would never follow a sports team or a political party or even support something like a school. There are people in any profession or type of organization who make the rest of their people look bad. Hell, our own state gets taken to task for that far too often.

    Again, let cooler heads prevail. I can’t blame you for the way you – and I’m sure many others – currently feel.

    All I can ask is to let things cool off and look at the organization as a whole.

    Thanks for supporting “12 Angry Men” and I hope to see you at “Raisin in the Sun” and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged!”

  15. Rudy Panucci

    I just want to echo what Kevin wrote. The purpose of my articles on this topic was not to harm KP. I hope everyone will continue to support them. I just wanted to make clear my issues with the upcoming fund-raiser, and make it clear that Melanie was not involved.

    The last thing I want is for Kanawha Players to fail. They hold a unique spot in the arts here in Charleston, and they’d leave a void that would be hard to fill.

  16. bbg

    Thanks for the pictures from the art show, especially the beautiful glass. So pretty!

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