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Home / Articles / Arts / Theater /  Tim Russell, the man of many voices, sounds off
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Tuesday, Dec 24, 2013

Tim Russell, the man of many voices, sounds off

A chat with Garrison Keillor’s sidekick tops our coverage of local plays

By David L. Coddon
theater Tim Russell
- Photo courtesy of Broadway San Diego

For Tim Russell, it all began in Dubuque, Iowa. No wonder he's been such a perfect fit for the theater-of-the-mind world of Garrison Keillor, poet laureate of America's Heartland.

You probably wouldn't recognize Russell in a crowd, but if you're a devotee of the long-running A Prairie Home Companion radio show, you'll recognize the pipes. Russell, who's in his 60s, is the man of many voices on Keillor's program, from Dusty the Cowboy to celebs like President Obama and Julia Child. 

But back to Dubuque: "I did voices when I was a kid, but I never thought I would have nerve enough to go into the business," says Russell, who'll be in San Diego on Jan. 4 when Keillor brings his A Prairie Home Companion Radio Romance Tour to San Diego. "But when I got into law school and found it so numbing, I thought, I've got to get out of here. What am I going to do now? That's how I got into radio."

The St. Paul native's first radio gig was in Dubuque, where, while producing commercials, he cultivated a variety of voices. He attributes his considerable talent to "listening. It's an odd thing because I can do a voice if I can hear it in my head, and I'd always done that since I was a child watching black-and-white TV, cartoons, whatever. I learned a lot of celebrity voices from the '30s and '40s watching Mel Blanc cartoons." Blanc was the voice of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and many more. 

Today, Russell's influence is Garrison Keillor. "Nobody writes better dialogue between two characters," he says of Keillor, who is Lefty to Russell's Dusty in the popular "Lives of the Cowboys" segment. "There are instances where we fill in the blanks, but when it comes to actual dialogue back and forth, it's miraculous."

A Prairie Home Companion Radio Romance Tour will be staged at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. $38-$88.

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Now playing

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: This’ll be the 16th year that the green one will slink onto the stage at The Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. “Fah Who Doraze,” indeed. Through Dec. 28.

The Humbug Holiday Spectacular: A world-premiere musical comedy revolving around Horatio the Humbug and his quest to satisfy the Spirit of Christmas. Through Dec. 28 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

Reasons to be Pretty: In Neil LaBute’s plain-spoken comedy, four blue-collar characters wrestle with notions of physical beauty and the power of modern-day language. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it runs through Dec. 28 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest.

Catch a Falling Star: Lambs Players’ holiday play this year revolves around a woman’s attempt to film a musical Christmas card at a remote mountain cabin that was meaningful to her father. Through Dec. 29 at Lamb’s Players Theatre.

Scrooge in Rouge: San Diego’s LGBT theater sends up the Dickens classic with a fast-paced music-and-comedy extravaganza. Through Dec. 29 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

Forever Plaid: Paid Tidings: The wholesome revue of 1950s-style harmony singing returns—again. Through Dec. 31 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.

Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill.