BWW Reviews: A Jolly Old Time at CHRISTMAS WITH THE CRAWFORDS
Nothing says Christmas like watching Mommie Dearest descend the stairs in four inch heels, a robe, sheer pantyhose, and a smug grin of self-satisfaction.
This holiday tradition is true, however, for the members of the Crawford family in StageQ's recent production of Christmas with the Crawfords written by Richard Winchester and Mark Sargent. Based loosely on the memoir made film "Mommie Dearest" written by Joan Crawford's daughter Christina and combined with a menagerie of guest stars of a bygone era, this is a comedy just bursting with eccentricities.
Michael Bruno's latest directorial endeavor is a show that can leave people wondering what in the world is going on...and that's the point.
Rife with over the top performers, actors in drag, and reworked holiday tunes, Christmas with the Crawfords is 90 minutes of sheer enjoyment. The only plot to be seen is Joan's attempt to make nice with her fans via a live radio broadcast in her living room and her children trying not to suffocate underneath her recently feigned stardom.
Terry Christopher is a delight as the Hollywood legend Joan Crawford. His embodiment of her overbearing personality makes tension palpable on stage. Christopher is both the show's namesake and ultimately its villain. Though characters in a show not driven by plot are not categorized by 'good' or 'evil', Christopher magnificently tiptoes the line. He creates the forced, smiling Joan that audiences are familiar with in addition to the unceremoniously cruel mother depicted in Christina's novel - which makes his character so fascinating to keep track of.
The Crawford children, Christopher and Christina (played by Stacey Garbarski and Dan Pietrangelo respectively) are charming, bratty, and sly. Precisely what one would imagine the children of a starlet to be. Garbarski's constant fidgeting created the five year old of the twenty something performer - though her bright red cheeks helped convey that coy innocence. While Pietrangelo's ever changing characterization was everything a pre-teen ordinarily is - indecisive, angry, and sometimes motherly (something the children's own mother never seemed to grasp in her self obsession).
Other cast members took the stage as Crawford's silver screen peers. Simone LaPierre traipsed onto the stage
with the air and grace of Hollywood's darling Judy Garland and eventually left the stage as the disheveled woman she became because of her fame. LaPierre's Garland was the perfect dichotomy for Joan Crawford - a woman who let the glamor of Hollywood affect her, but did not let it take her.
On the other side of the spectrum, Gloria Swanson (portrayed by Donnovan Moen) comically represented all that Crawford was afraid to one day become. Moen's expressive nature on the stage gave him the perfect canvas to show how desperately Swanson wanted to be famous once more and gave Christopher's Crawford a persona to run from.
Despite its hidden messages about fame, Christmas with the Crawfords is really to be taken as a trip down memory lane. For those fortunate enough to have heard the late Ethel Merman in some capacity, you will be tickled pink by Bonnie Balke's representation of the great Broadway star. For every dimming Hollywood star in the show, Merman is there to remind audiences that actors can forever be full of the joy of performing no matter their fame or finances - but, if Balke could make a living as a Merman impersonator, she wouldn't have to worry about either.
As the director, Bruno was finally able to take a show he had admired and put it on for his fellow Madisonians. He took a seemingly unknown show, plucked it out of the sky, and said "don't they know a star when they see one?"
Indeed StageQ - this is your holiday season's shining star.