Review: HIAH's Holiday Romp SNOWGIRLS: THE MUSICAL
Snowmi Malone (Harper Leander) has left her trailer park life behind to eke out fame dancing at the North Pole. She is not, you will note, a ho, ho, ho.
SNOWGIRLS - THE MUSICAL is Hell in a Handbag Production's latest romp and blends the 1995 erotic box office bomb "Showgirls" with favorite holiday characters like Mrs. Claus (Erin Daly) and Rudolph (Max Mckune).
The show's biggest problem is the original source material. The 1995 film so fully embraces camp culture as defined by Susan Sontag in that it unintentionally succeeds in being so over the top. It's hard to out-camp camp and the book by Derek Van Barham tries, but doesn't always necessarily succeed. In particular, it lacks the social commentary that has been signature to the works performed by HIAH that were written by the company's artistic director, David Cerda.
The show is clever in how it reimages all the characters from Joe Eszterhas' script as icons of Christmas. Snowmi (Nomi in the film and originally played by Elizabeth Berkley) is an ambitious stripper who dreams of the legitimacy of being a Las Vegas-type showgirl, the only problem is the reigning queen of the Snowgirls club is Ice Crystal Connors (Sydney Genco).
Genco manages to out-Gershon Gina Gershon (who played Cristol Connors in the film). Genco is sensational as the bisexual, controlling star of the club and her character's more-seasoned and hardened core nature is the perfect foil opposite Leander's naïve Malone. In both actresses capable hands, the script at times seems to parody "All About Eve" (one could, I suppose, make the same claim about the original film, but "Showgirls" just isn't that deep).
Erin Daly, who continues to go unrecognized and underappreciated as one of Chicago's truly great musical comedy talents, nearly succeeds in stealing the show as the bitter and deliciously trashy Mrs. Claus. Claus spends her time in the off-season managing a rival strip club with Rudolph (Mckune). Mckune sets up and scores with a double entendre about a bit of lyric from the original holiday song. I won't ruin the joke here, but suffice to say it could be a throw-away line in anyone else's hands and Mckune mines it for comedy gold.
Grant Drager is also perfectly cast as Zip, the sleazy elf who schemes to woo Snowmi into his bed.
Kate Setzer Kamphausen's winning costumes feature tight-fitting crushed velvet, leopard prints and big shouldered 1990's era suits.
The set by Jeremy Hollis is sufficient and Spartan (the space only exists as "the David Cerda Performing Arts Center" for the duration of the show and turns back into a dance club at its conclusion). I always marvel at the ingenuity of the HIAH set designers because of this.
The show's music and lyrics by David Cerda, Scott Lamberty and Jeff Thomson include two standout numbers: "Sexyland" in which Daly "sleighs" as Mrs. Claus and "Call Me Ice Crystal" (sung with smoldering, sexual intensity by Genco).
Jon Martinez's direction keeps things moving at a brisk pace and like the best Christmas carols, the show never overstays its welcome.
And while fans of the troupe's particular brand of camp theater will find much to chuckle about, some may find it's a few eggs short of a full nog.
SNOWGIRLS: THE MUSICAL runs through Dec. 30 at Mary's Attic, 5400 N. Clark. Tickets $27-$30. Brownpapertickets.com or 800.838.3006.
A previous version of this article identified JD Caudill as the director. JD Caudill provided music direction.