“The craft of Theatre and the craft of Beer are a sister/brotherhood; we just had to show the world how, and raising money for charity was the key.”- Jimmy Ludwig (pictured, right) and Mark Aldrich (left) are The Happy Hour Guys. Photo Credit: The Happy Hour Guys.
James Ludwig and Mark Aldrich certainly know a lot about theatre. “Jimmy” Ludwig, who was on Broadway in the 2003 revival of Little Shop Of Horrors and the original company of Spamalot, and Aldridge whose credits include the 2009 revival of Ragtime and the original company of Newsies, have also both amassed remarkable resumes on the stage and in television and film, but the two also have another, secondary, common passion: beer.
Alcohol, spirits, brews, liquor, booze— whatever you want to call it— they all have their place in theatre and dance folklore. You’re nary to find a dimly lit bar in midtown Manhattan after 11 o’clock most nights of the week that doesn’t have a few Broadway performers talkin’ shop and discussing the “biz” over cocktails. What makes Ludwig and Aldrich different, however,— on top of their willingness to seek out the nerdiest, rarest, and most avant-garde of New York’s hidden rathskellers— is that the focus of their conversations lay mainly in the craft and artistry of beer brewing and alcohol distillation. That shared passion, welded together by a lot of hard work over the passed ten years, led the two friends to create what’s become one of the most interesting, informative, and entertaining niche online entertainment shows, The Happy Hour Guys.
Ludwig and Aldrich, who met back in 2003 at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC— the same infamous theatre in which President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth— while doing a production of the musical 1776, quickly learned they shared a passion for booze and brews.
“During the run we kept running into each other at all these amazing historic DC bars,” Ludwig told Dance Network. “Both of us were great fans of Anthony Bourdain, so the genesis of The Happy Hour Guys, presently, has a tinge of sadness, given current events. We thought, with inspiration from him, that there was a show of some sort residing in historic bars and terrific drinks; and we were right.”
Ludwig (left) and Aldrich (right) at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Photo Credit: The Happy Hour Guys.
Since creating the pilot presentation of The Happy Hour Guys in 2006, the two have grown their content catalog immensely.
“We began producing regularly in 2008— and that was over 350 episodes ago. That’s right, 350 episodes, all video,” Ludwig gleefully recalled. “What we didn’t see coming in ‘08 was the fact that the Craft Revolution was hitting the east coast with tremendous force; so we’ve been able to, not only watch, but to report on and participate in the blooming of Craft of all kinds (beer, spirits, wine, cider) throughout the eastern seaboard between then and now.”
Recently though, the two distinguished theatre and drinking practitioners found a way to connect their previously dueling passions; through a new charitable venture called The Broadway Brews Project.
“We started The Broadway Brews Project in 2016 because, for years, we had had our very full Broadway lives and our Craft lives, but they didn’t intersect. And we wanted them to,” Ludwig said. “These two disparate groups— Broadway and Craft Beer— have much more in common than they think— and we were the first to realize that. The Craft of Theatre and the Craft of Beer are a sister/brotherhood; we just had to show the world how, and raising money for charity was the key.”
Through The Broadway Brews Project, Ludwig and Aldrich are building a bridge between theatrical artistry and brew craft. The Happy Hour Guys are taking the casts of six different broadway shows and pairing them with individual craft brewers to each create a brand new beer. When the brews are all done, they’ll be released in what The Happy Hour Guys are calling, The Broadway Six Pack, with all profits going to charity.
The ‘Brew Team’ for Phantom of the Opera, (Left to Right): Actress Ali Ewoldt (Christine Daae), actor Paul A. Schaefer (Marksman), and actor Rodney Ingram, (Raoul) brewing ‘Pint Of No Return’ at Hardywood Brewing in Richmond, VA. Photo Credit: The Happy Hour Guys
“We know many of the players on both sides; friends who are cast members, stage managers, PR or producers of Broadway shows, and Craft Beer makers all over the USA,” Ludwig explained. “There’s a certain alchemy to it— we try to match each show thematically to the brewer. For instance we matched Hamilton, our first Broadway Brew, with Gun Hill Brewing in the Bronx, whose entire ethic is based in American Revolutionary War history.”
On top of the brew they created with Hamilton, they’ve also developed beers with Broadway’s School Of Rock and Waitress, and another soon to be released— all for the Broadway Six Pack.
“Our goal is ambitious as heck,” Ludwig admitted. “We’re more than halfway there, though. The fourth Broadway Brew, Phantom Of The Opera’s beer called Pint Of No Return, is set to debut in New York at a big party we’re throwing on July 29th.”
In order the reach their financing goal, the duo created a GoFundMe page. Late last month, the team successfully reached their initial goal, but fans who understand both the artistic vulnerability and the potential for exponential charitable outreach have continued to donate.
“Each cast chooses their charity,” Ludwig detailed. “Usually, they choose a charity that has either a sentimental connection to the cast, or a thematic connection to the show. Hamilton chose ‘Graham Windham’, a social services organization that is the outgrowth of the orphanage that Eliza Hamilton herself started in 1802; School of Rock chose ‘Sing for Hope’, who provide arts education to underfunded schools— and are responsible for those amazing, artistically painted, free-to-use pianos that pop up around NYC each summer; Waitress chose the ‘Adrienne Shelly Foundation’, which provides support for female filmmakers; and Phantom has chosen ‘Musicians on Call’, which sends musicians to hospital rooms to play for patients who are bed-bound.”
Both the performers and the brewers, have all, so far, seemed to enjoy their experiences.
“The kinship is recognized right away; and we’ve even had some actors in shows who are home-brewers, and brewery staff who act and dance nonprofessionally,” Ludwig recounted. “The language of creativity is pretty universal, and both of these groups speak it fluently.”
Creativity and a shared passion are what seem to have driven Ludwig and Aldrich all these years, but the connection between the artistry of craft brewing and that of performance art— all in the name of charity— is what seems to be causing the major growth of their fan base.
“There’s so much risk involved, for one thing,” Ludwig explained. “Dancers and actors bust themselves into teeny pieces to create something that they have little or no guarantee anyone will watch— craft brewers risk everything, both financial and physical, making a drink that no one might ever buy. There’s extreme artistry in both; and no one works harder fueled by hope than artists.”
The Phantom Of The Opera’s ‘Pint Of No Return’ can art. Photo Credit: The Happy Hour Guys.
For more on The Happy Hour Guys and The Broadway Brews Project check out their or their . Be sure to follow them on , and keep an eye out for new content coming out in the weeks leading up to the release party of the Phantom Of The Opera beer, Pint Of No Return, which lands July 29th.
Michael Mahany is a writer, host, actor, and serves as the New York City Correspondent for Dance Network. Follow him on and .