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Rogue Review: "Tomatoes Tried to Kill Me but Banjos Saved My Life"

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

Is that a great title or what? This was one of the first shows I knew I had to see, and I am pleased to report that, with this show being my finale of the 2022 Rogue Festival, I couldn’t have chosen a better show to go out on.

Keith Alessi tells his journey of collecting banjos for the majority of his life before learning how to play them. When a cancer diagnosis hits him, he decides to do everything he can to enjoy every moment he has left, leading him to learn how to play his banjos and become competent enough to play in front of people. Keith is more than a competent banjo player and an even more gifted storyteller. With direction by Erika Conway, Alessi’s calm, charismatic presence is on display in this honest telling of how tomatoes, a source of heartburn which served as a cause of his cancer, nearly killed him, but also broke his heart as he is nearly full Italian. Alessi doesn’t “perform” this show, in the traditional sense of the word, but simply exists on stage as himself and lets us come to him, leaning forward in our seats to grasp every anecdote, banjo-playing turn, and laid back joke. By the end, I had tears in my eyes. I wasn’t ready for Alessi to play us off, but he did and that’s fine, because it simply means there’s another audience he’ll be in front of soon who will benefit from their time spent with his talent and telling. If this show comes your way make every effort to see it.

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