BWW Review: Gary Apple's CHRISTMAS IN HELL, A Holiday Tale About Bad Fruitcake and Charles Manson
Composed as a canticle performed by a church choir, the opening number solemnly teaches the story of the "Fruitcake From Hell," purchased from a Woolworth's in 1964 and re-gifted around the world for decades, left uneaten until, as we eventually find out, it was sampled recently by eight-year-old Davin (Elijah Rayman), sending him briefly into a coma.
Well, it just so happens that Davin was staying in the same hospital as Charles Manson. With the infamous cult leader on his deathbed, the boogeyman, named Carl (Zak Risinger) is set to harvest his soul for Lucifer (Brandon Williams). But when the scoundrel confesses his sins, earning him a spot in Heaven, Carl claims Davin's soul instead.
So when released from his coma, the formerly sweet kid whose biggest passion in life was going to Chuck E. Cheese (he's got a whole song about the place) has begun acting up in school. His single dad Richard (Scott Ahearn) is told in a parent-teacher conference that Devin has nailed a live frog to a cross, drawn out formulas for anthrax and napalm and is making dirty jokes about Dick and Jane. The faculty concludes, in song that Davin is "f***ed up."
When Richard comes to realize what's happened to Davin, he commits suicide in order to go to Hell and attempt to strike a bargain with Lucifer to save his son's soul.
Apple appears to be trying very hard to be edgy, but jokes about Obamacare, gender-neutral bathrooms and Leona Helmsley fall flat, as do the fart jokes. The traditional musical comedy score, played by arranger/conductor Logan Medland's four-piece band is pleasant enough. Director/choreographer Bill Castellino provides brisk staging and a fine ensemble delivers the material with show-biz panache, but the best holiday present that can be delivered to Christmas in Hell is a script doctor to punch up the material.