Review: JESUS AND JOHNNY APPLEWEED'S HOLY ROLLIN' FAMILY CHRISTMAS at The Grandel

New Line Theatre's World Premiere of the Stoner Dickensian Musical is a Laugh Riot

By: Dec. 10, 2023
Review: JESUS AND JOHNNY APPLEWEED'S HOLY ROLLIN' FAMILY CHRISTMAS at The Grandel
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New Line Theatre’s new musical, JESUS & JOHNNY APPLEWEED’S HOLY ROLLIN’ FAMILY CHRISTMAS, is a pot-lace Dickensian-Cheech & Chong-esque Holiday spoof that is reminiscent of when Saturday Night Live was in its heyday and was actually funny. The new musical farce, penned by New Line Theatre’s artistic director Scott Miller, tells the story of the Goodson Family and their Christmas Eve confessions post consumption of some of Mom’s holiday edibles.  

The narrative is driven by a quartet of Christmas carolers (Robert Doyle, Matt Hill, Stephanie Merritt, and Lauren Tenenbaum) who appear and sing, advancing the story of Harry Goodson (Terrell Thompson) and his family. His wife Bess (Kay Love), son Chip (Tony L. Marr, Jr.), daughter Tammy (Marlee Wenski), and brother-in-law Hugh (Tawaine Noah), all reveal dirty little secrets that shatter the image of his 1959 white bread suburban life. Each confession unravels Harry’s idea of what his life is and challenges the societal norms of the ending decade.  

Miller’s book is laced with hilarious references to 1950’s America. It’s as if he has rolled every 50’s sitcom into two, one-hour individual SNL skits. In Act One, the audience meets the members of the Goodson family, learns about each family member’s truth, and how their revelations rock Harry’s heteronormative world. Act Two is more Dickens-esque with visits from Jesus and ghosts that reshape Harry’s view of what his adult family has become.  

The shows score, orchestrations and vocal performances need a lot of polish and shine, but it is the lyrics that contain many of the jokes and much of the humor. The best parts of the score surface thanks to fully committed vocal performances from Kay Love and Marlee Wenski. Both women have strong voices and know how to sell a musical theatre number. Love and Wenski milk every laugh out of their lyrics thanks to their all-in delivery, facial expressions and physical choices acting through song. Stephanie Merritt and Lauren Tenenbaum dig into their vocals and choreography as part of the four carolers, but their strong performances are not matched by their male counterparts when performing the original parts of the score. A few of the caroler's songs are traditional carols with recognizable melodies but rewritten lyrics to add stoner references and witty jokes. Those well-known melodies incited the most robust musical moments from the quartet, perhaps because they were singing a well-known tune.  

The funniest moments in the show came from the actors’ cheeky winks, silly faces, and physical comedy. It was those knowing looks out into the audience that brought the loudest belly laughs, guffaws, and snorts from the audience. The actors playing the Goodson family members are a troupe of performers who understand how to sell a joke. Credit goes to the intentional blocking from Scott Miller and Tony L. Marr’s direction and choreography.  

The set design is a terrific recreation of a 1950’s sitcom living room. Rob Lippert’s set is smartly decorated with cool mid-century furniture and props that instantly return the audience to the period. A favorite piece of his set decoration was the retro silver branched Christmas tree and the electric color wheel that was a part of every home’s late 50’s and 1960’s holiday décor. Lippert’s scenery was complimented by Matt Stuckel’s imaginative lighting design that comically projected shadows of marijuana leaves on the sunshine yellow walls of the Goodson’s living room. Lauren Smith Bearden’s creative costume designs elegantly represented the fashion of the time, especially the tight-waisted, full circle skits worn by the women in the cast.  

JESUS AND JOHNNY APPLEWEED’S HOLY ROLLIN’ FAMILY CHRISTMAS is an irreverent musical comedy chock-full of laughs. While most of the jokes are related to changing times 7-decades ago, you don’t have to be a baby boomer to understand and appreciate Miller’s hysterical script. If you’re looking for funny, adult-themed holiday entertainment that is a complete diversion from more traditional holiday fare, JESUS AND JOHNNY APPLEWEED’S HOLY ROLLIN' FAMILY CHRISTMAS will certainly add some laughs to your holiday entertainment.  

New Line Theatre presents JESUS AND JOHNNY APPLEWEED’S HOLY ROLLIN’ FAMILY CHRISTMAS through December 16th at The Grandel in midtown. Click the link below for tickets.  




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