Review: THE ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS SHOW (Abridged) Offers Continuous Holiday Hilarity at the Torrance Theatre Company
THE ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS SHOW (Abridged) by Reed Martin & Austin Tichenor, directed by Perry Shields with a knowing wink at all the holiday craziness now rampant in the world. Adding to his own stressfully creative holiday season, the production features two casts performing on alternate dates with Kenyon Meleney, Jimmy Duong, and Matt Garber making up the all-male cast; and Alison Mattiza, Amanda Webb, and Cindy Shields in the all-female cast. So not only is their comic timing absolutely essential throughout the show, along with more costume changes than I can count and continuous choreography, each of Perry's two casts rehearsed separately in half the usual rehearsal time! And if casting is 99% of the success of a show, kudos to Perry for his casting perfection!
Those who are familiar with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) or The Complete History of America (Abridged) will be familiar with the authors' names and the general premise for the show. But if, like me, you have not seen either one of those shows, this one stands on its own brilliantly as once again three actors have the gargantuan task of covering a lot of ground in just 90 minutes. The performance I attended featured the all-female cast, and with their incredibly raucous portrayals performed with as much holiday glee as I have ever witnessed onstage, no doubt the all-male cast delivers the same energetic performance with just as much cross dressing and belly laughs galore.
As you enter the theater, you are handed a program within a program, with the smaller inner booklet featuring the rundown about to be shown in the Annual Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant at St. Everybody's Non-Denominational Universalist Church, where all faiths are welcome because we'll believe anything. Welcoming you are the three cast members in their holiday finest, totally unaware at first that there's a problem: none of the acts scheduled to perform have arrived due to a ravaging storm in the area. This means the three church members are pressed into service to perform the entire Variety Show and Christmas Pageant by themselves, with absolutely no previous rehearsals done (supposedly) for any of the no-show acts!
Alison Mattiza, Amanda Webb, and Cindy Shields are wonders to behold as they try to keep the audience in their seats and not leave due to the weather and closed roads, even asking several to perform in one Nativity skit to riotous laugh thanks to Daniel Kruger who was called up to play the baby Jesus in his own signature goofy style, with the cast donning the individual costume changes for the 20 originally scheduled acts. Both casts share the same set of costumes, so imagine the humor when sizes don't quite match the size or gender of the wearer! And kudos to the backstage crew for keeping the performers' changes right on schedule.
And while each of the musical numbers stands comically on its own, often causing me to laugh so much that I could not take notes to share the exact comedic situations with you, a highlight for me was the audience participation with the revised lyrics to the "12 Days of Christmas" in which days 4-12 were suggested by called-upon audience members. Of course, this means the three performers have to remember and repeat each of the suggested items given to them in each show! The experience often became flooded with hysterical anticipation of who would name what, often resulting in a reminder sing-along, even though at least one of the actors always remembered each of the items including a very melodic 5 Brand New Dogs! (Also using the canine theme, the three goatherds who visit the baby Jesus in another skit included the "German Shepherd" to laughs and groans alike.)
Audience members are invited to participate in the Church's annual gift exchange by bringing a small, wrapped present to place under the onstage tree and then selecting one from among the current selections. And if you did not bring one, you can still get involved by purchasing a small wrapped gift for a few dollars in the lobby during intermission, exchanging it as you return for Act 2. The cast will call upon anyone with an exchanged gift to unwrap it and announce to the audience the booty you have obtained, also sharing which items they picked for themselves. To add to the comic mood of the show, I encourage you to get creative with your gifts!
So be sure to grab tickets to enjoy all the laughs in this irreverent yet heartwarming trip through the holidays in THE ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS SHOW (ABRIDGED), a festive, funny, and incredibly physical celebration of joy and laughter as these Three Wise Guys (or Girls) send up our favorite holiday traditions. Performances continue through December 17, 2017 on Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm; with a special Thursday night performance on December 14 at 7 pm, which is followed by a Q & A with the cast, at the Torrance Theatre Company, located at 1316 Cabrillo Ave, Torrance 90501, in the heart of the historic downtown district. General admission tickets are $30, available online at TorranceTheatreCompany.com or via phone at 424-243-6882.
HO HO HO!!!!
Photo credit: Miguel Elliot