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BWW Reviews: You Will Make It Through A CHRISTMAS SURVIVAL GUIDE at Broadway Rose...Most Likely Smiling

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I'm tempted to write a column called "When Bad Plays Happen to Good Theatres." Of course, the theatres themsevles are choosing these pieces to put on, but couldn't it all be a twisted cry for help? I keep seeing talented actors, directors, musicians, and designers putting maximum effort into indifferent material, and I want to take them aside and say, "You don't have to settle for this. Hold out for something better."

My latest example is Broadway Rose's production of A Christmas Survival Guide. The show isn't awful. It borrows good ideas from better shows, mixes things up in a mildly charming way, and sells itself as family entertainment, though I can't imagine a lot of the under-16 set being amused by an Elvis sketch or a song about rehab. Survival Guide pinches the singles' laments from I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, jazzes up some old standards like Forever Plaid, and then changes the channel about fifteen minutes before the curtain falls to give us a dash of religion. The result is a show that is fitfully entertaining, not terribly original, and pleasant enough to take Grandma to.

The songs are deftly handled by the three-piece band, right there on stage, with pianist Jeffrey Childs occasionally interacting with the cast of four. I loved the arrangement of "Little Girl Blue" threaded through with "Good King Wenceslas," but turning "Silver Bells" into a Sondheimesque patter song didn't work well, and "The Twelve Steps of Christmas," while funny at first, became repetitive and irritating. There was a fine comic scene with "Sleigh Ride" turning into a wreck, and an oddly sarcastic song about a shepherd, plus a medley of songs from old TV specials. But then after ninety minutes of laughing, we're suddenly brought up short and asked to reflect upon the birth of Jesus, which seems, well, awkward.

Director/choreographer Dan Murphy chose his cast well and let them loose on this material, and they did the best they could with it. The two men, Craig Allen and Ben Farmer, were mostly stuck the blander songs. Farmer worked hard to keep "Silver Bells" afloat, while Allen had one good comedy scene trying to put Star Wars ornaments on a sad little tree. Megan Carver similarly struggled with the blah songs until she got hold of "The Twelve Steps of Christmas," and as tacky as the song was, she found every laugh in it and got a nice round of applause afterwards.

Amy Jo Halliday deserves special praise. In three recent shows with Broadway Rose she's gone from goofy to tragic, and here she gets the best of the songs. The aforementioned "Little Girl Blue" shows her at her most moving, the TV medley gives her a great drunk scene (she keeps returning to "Feliz Navidad" with decreasing results), and she made a meal of the show's best song, Jason Robert Brown's Brecht/Weill parody, "Surabaya-Santa," an extended lament by Mrs. Claus herself. Even singing a bland song like "All Those Christmas Cliches" (which is pretty cliched itself), she sparkles with humor and keeps her poise.

My wish for the holidays is that Broadway Rose and everyone else finds the ability (and the money) to only put on worthwhile shows. They've got the talent. Let's get these folks a truly worthwhile musical to perform. That's a gift we can all appreciate.


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From This Author Patrick Brassell

Patrick Brassell is the author of five published novels and five produced plays. He has directed, produced, and designed sound for about fifty theater productions, (read more...)