BWW Reviews: Santa Arrives At Dutch Apple's A SWINGIN' CHRISTMAS
Best for: Santa Claus, familiar carols
Worst for: kids (length, long dance sequences), food
Dutch Apple's contribution to the November Christmas show sweeps is A SWINGIN' CHRISTMAS. Written and directed by Prather veteran Victor Legaretta, this one promises, and delivers, the eagerly expected: plenty of Santa, plenty of familiar carols you can sing along to, and plenty of everything else, too, right down to plenty of cheerful, smiling singers and dancers in pretty holiday costumes.
There's so much of the Christmas cheer that it may be a bit too long for small children. There was just a little much of it even for me, although there wasn't nearly enough of Paul Gladfelter's hysterically funny and musically delightful Santa Elvis. The thin (because who needs complicated excuses for a Christmas revue?) premise is that Santa and Mrs. Claus have the grandkids visiting, and they're reminiscing to them about other Christmases and how the Kringle family has celebrated them. The action cuts from adorable action at Santa's house (Mrs. Santa is not the Hula-Hooper she once was, alas) to the events of those prior years and the fun the family has had.
The first sketch outside of Santa's home is premised on Santa's elves occasionally getting disgruntled at the Christmas workload, and is set to an Irving Berlin medley, mostly from "This Is The Army". It's followed by a Santa's softball game sketch, featuring a rapid-fire "Who's On First" delivery by Derek Basthemer and Matthew Morgan that is one of the highlights of the event. Abbott and Costello fans in the audience will be spotted by their reciting along with The Players.
A 1940's USO Christmas sketch would be improved if Morgan's and Shannon Connolly's (younger Kris Kringle and his Mrs. Santa-to-be) "Baby, It's Cold Outside" weren't covered up by the music. It's a shame to miss any of the lines to some of Johnny Mercer's cleverest work. But the Andrews Sisters trio (Katrina Gnatek, Abby Hart, and Sims Lamason) make up for that with plenty of gusto and harmony.
Perhaps the most unusual material in the show appears in the midst of the USO section – Mrs. Claus tries explaining to her grandson that there was one very exciting performance of "The Nutcracker" that she and Santa had seen once. This turns out to be a jazz performance of several better-known portions of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" Suite, with a jazz dance accompaniment, set in a period nightclub. The sketch is fairly long and, while interesting, simply doesn't feel like "The Nutcracker" at all – nor does it appear much like the familiar story in depiction. While it's a neatly executed sequence, I'm doubtful of the Christmas relevance, or that it will hold the attention of the very young members of the audience.
The second half of the show is, however, mostly a very fun, very wild 50's and 60's ride featuring a Christmas sock hop to "Jingle Bell Rock" and related songs, performed by a group of high school archetypes – the jock and his girlfriend, the greaser couple, the nerdy guy and the girl with glasses, the nice kids, and a beatnik pair. They take the Christmas spirit up to the Santa Elvis rock party, featuring Derek Basthemer, Matthew Morgan, and Paul Gladfelter rocking "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus", "Here Comes Santa Claus", "Blue Christmas", and "Santa Claus is Back in Town" to the general delight of the audience. Gladfelter's Elvis jumpsuit and bling are delightfully funny, especially topped with his Christmas cape. Santa Elvis is alive, well, and in the building during this set, and it's the highlight of the show.
There is one set of religious carols, nicely performed, near the end, although once again Paul Gladfelter provides the highlight – dressed as a traditional Saint Nicholas, he performs a powerhouse "O Holy Night" that is truly worthy of note.
The "Sleigh Ride" sketch set to Leroy Anderson's beloved song is extremely funny -- I'm just a bit concerned about the younger Mr. Kringle's difficulty in handling a horse-drawn sleigh. I would have thought he could handle ones without flying reindeer, too. After all, he's Santa!
Director/writer Legaretta is also a trained chef who's tried out for some reality cooking competitions. It would be to the show's advantage for him to take a turn in the kitchen as well – I found the buffet prior to the show slightly disappointing, unfortunately. Perhaps that, as well as the Nutcracker scene, will tighten up during the run of the show.
At Dutch Apple through December 23. Call 717-898-1900 or visit www.dutchapple.com.