Capsule Stage Reviews: Panto Mother Goose, Sanders Family Christmas, The Santaland Diaries, The White Christmas Album: A Beatles Holiday
Panto Mother Goose The latest installment of Stages Repertory Theatre's annual Christmas "pantomimes" has a nimble score by David Nehls but top-heavy book (though far nimbler lyrics) by Stages' artistic director, Kenn McLaughlin. With tongues firmly planted, the actors gleefully chew the scenery — a Necco wafer storybook set by Jody Bobrovsky. The actors have a lot to chew, since the show runs two and a half hours with intermission. Even with first-class staging and first-rate performances, tiny tots begin to nod off. So do their larger chaperones. Director Ryan Schabach, who gives this panto its fleet-footedness, returns as audience favorite Buttons. He supervises the marriage of Mother Goose (Genevieve Allenbury) to Old King Cole (Jimmy Phillips). By getting married, Goose will retire as rhyme queen, so she creates a poetry competition to determine the next ruler of childhood verse. Reporter for the Goose Island Gander, Little Tommy Tucker (Mark Ivey) aches to be a Broadway gypsy. Jack (Mitchell Greco), noted for his water-fetching, is the likable hero but has a terrible stutter, so he's not a contender. Jack loves Jill (Teresa Zimmerman), no surprise, but she wants to be independent and liberated. The trio of Hickory, Dickory and Doc (Hunter Frederick, Cameron Davis and Danny Dyer) work for arch-villain Baron Von Nastypants (an amazingly adroit Andrew Ingalls), whose schemes to usurp the kingdom drive the show with wry audience ad-libs and a beguiling stage presence. Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary (a fine blustery Joshua Estrada) is the shrew married to Nastypants; the head henchman is Wee Willie Winkie (Kyle Curry, equally amazing), a bumbling comic foil "in his nightgown" with borscht belt pedigree. With numerous morals and sketchy sex jokes, the panto lumbers, but if you keep nudging the kids, they'll have a fine time yelling at the villains and cheering the heroes. The go-for-broke actors redeem the lumpy story. Through January 6. 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0220. — DLG
Sanders Family Christmas Part sacred and part comically profane, Connie Ray and Alan Bailey's musical testament to faith and family warms like hot chocolate and soothes like comfortable woolies. The ensemble cast plays it to perfection as the show veers between goofy comedy and misty-eyed sentiment, with musical numbers (gospel hymns, traditional carols, novelty songs) interspersed with "witnessing" monologues, some tender, some funny. The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church awaits the arrival of the renowned country gospel group the Sanders Family Singers. Pastor Oglethorpe (Kevin Dean) is atwitter at the visit. Burl (Gerry Poland) is the patriarch, a big, savvy country boy. His wife Vera (Shondra Marie) will "blister" anyone's backside if they disrespect her or the Lord. Twins Dennis (Robert Price) and Denise (Sarah Cooksey) are on the verge of adulthood, with Dennis soon off to war. The play is set on Christmas Eve 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Rejoining the family is Uncle Stanley (Craig Griffin), an ex-con who's had a quick brush with fame by singing in a Hollywood western with Gene Autry. Unassuming, plain June (Katharine Hatcher) is the "nonmusical" Sanders. Although no one in the congregation is deaf, June "signs" the songs. Hatcher gives one of the drollest performances so far this season, using a deadpan expression and exquisite timing that would do Buster Keaton proud. Music makes them whole, but the binding tie is family. Sanders Family Christmas is directed with a mighty sure touch by Joey Watkins, and the joys of Christmas are apparent. No matter what you believe, there's faith in that. Through December 31. A.D. Players, 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG
The Santaland Diaries He's back! That 39-year-old gay schlub, down on his luck and aching for TV soap stardom, finds his calling over the holidays in a temp job from hell as an elf at Macy's Santaland, the place where Christmas spirit goes to die. In David Sedaris's profane, hilarious and politically incorrect dissection of rampant consumerism, based on his own exploits, "Crumpet the Elf" explains it all for you. With Alley Theatre pro Todd Waite in star mode (spelled in some performances by Alley vet Paul Hope), the monologue, adapted by Joe Montello, zooms by with crackling, wicked fun. Christmas just isn't Christmas without this jaundiced poke in the eye. Hand casually placed on hip à la Jean Harlow, our unnamed protagonist needs a job badly, and, really, how hard is it to be an elf? Harder than you think. First, there's that Elfin Guide to follow without question — the Macy's Bible of model behavior for all elves toiling in Santaland. You must exude relentless good cheer at all times — even when the little darlings waiting to see Santa vomit from excitement or pee on the floor. You must tolerate psychotic co-workers — spitting Santas and warranted sexual advances from fellow elf Snowball. And then there's that demeaning green velvet costume with its candy cane-striped leggings and goofy medieval hat. (Costumer Blaire Gulledge knows how to design tacky.) As the shopping days count down, the crowds of exasperated parents with shell-shocked tots get more frantic, as does our Crumpet. In ever impressionistic scenes, we're regaled with opinions, dish and wry observations. His "grinding enthusiasm" has a very short, funny fuse. Waite has a field day in this role, a characterization he's honed razor-sharp after four years of donning those tights. He plays him like an elastic band, ad-libbing with the audience and swishing through the routines with incomparable timing. Put upon and sometimes as wonderstruck by the pandemonium of holiday cheer as the wayward adults and frightened kids, he's immensely likable. Guided with gleeful mischief by director David Cromer, his Crumpet glistens with bitchy radiance and wide-eyed bemusement. The Alley is putting Crumpet back in the attic after this year, so if you've never experienced his elfin exploits, now is the time to go and laugh yourself silly. If this show has become your holiday tradition of choice, Santaland Diaries, naughty and nice, requires a final farewell ho-ho-ho. Through December 30. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — DLG
The White Christmas Album: A Beatles Holiday Hmmm, the Beatles and Christmas together? Sounds a little loony. Rest easy, everything's fine. This musical potpourri is stirred, not shaken, and served on a silver platter by Music Box Theater. The holiday season is in terrific hands — all ten of them (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Cay Taylor, Kristina Sullivan and Luke Wrobel), 12 if you count the special guest appearance by John Gremillion, and 20 when you add the jazzy quartet led by Glenn Sharp. So many fine hands, one great show. Five-part harmony never sounded so beautiful. Each Broadway Babe gets to shine solo; sometimes they sing together a cappella, giving the band a rest; sometimes they act in a screwy comedy routine. The concept works surprisingly well, deftly so. Think about it: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" segues into "With a Little Help From My Friends." "All You Need Is Love" smoothly blends with "Ring Christmas Bells." The idea is some sort of brilliant. Scarborough's supremely smooth account of the classic "Christmas Song" has to be the finest rendition I've ever heard. Taylor's rendition of "I Will" is simple joy made into music. Sullivan's hymn-like "There's Still My Joy" haunts with its exquisite phrasing. Dahl rocks triumphantly through, over and around "Let It Be." Wrobel's burnished baritone wraps "Sleigh Ride" in glowing warmth. And when all five harmonize in an ethereal version of "Because," the song floats like mist. When these Fab 5 sing those Fab 4, it's a gift of Christmas cheer. Through December 29. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — DLG
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