Chicago Theater Review: IT’S A WONDERFUL SANTALAND MIRACLE, NUTCRACKING CHRISTMAS STORY… JEWS WELCOME! (Stage 773)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 17, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

ROASTING CHESTNUTS

Nothing if not all-inviting, this modestly entitled holiday revue, It’s A Wonderful Santaland Miracle, Nut Cracking Christmas Story…Jews Welcome! is Stage 773’s second coming of 2012’s feel-good, all-purpose Yuletide romp. Accordingly, the pro(scenium) stage is festooned with colored lights, stockings, snowflakes and sparkles. The audience is regaled with cookies before the show and eggnog during a vocal selection.

Nick Curatolo, Analisha Santini, and David Kaplinsky perform a medley of holiday favorites in IT’S A WONDERFUL SANTALAND MIRACLE, NUTCRACKING CHRISTMAS STORY… JEWS WELCOME! at Stage 773. Photo by Stephanie Vera Photography.

In the spirit of Up with People!, Brian Posen’s two-act, 110-minute confection features 13 peppy young actors and five perky, tap-dancing hoofers. They indulge in an aggressively cheerful program of holiday anecdotes, tale-spinning, interactive playfulness, snowball fights, songs—sardonic and sweet—of the season, and groaner jokes (“What do you call someone who’s allergic to Christmas? Claus-trophobic”). Opening with a very forced medley of carols and standards, Santaland at first promises to be a just a hypoglycemic tour de cliché.

The acting ensemble of IT’S A WONDERFUL SANTALAND MIRACLE, NUTCRACKING CHRISTMAS STORY… JEWS WELCOME! pay tribute to a myriad of wintertime holidays at Stage 773. Photo by Stephanie Vera Photography.But there are some brains behind the tinsel in this family-friendly “Christmas cow” (as in milked for profits). You see it in a kazoo-style chorus that cleverly sends up Christmas on the Internet. There’s verbal and pictorial wit when ingenious puppets depict competing holidays (they duke it out over which deserves to knock Christmas off its throne). Uniting against merriment, enemies of the “most wonderful time of the year”—Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch, the banker Mr. Potter, and Satan himself—make the case that their evil exists to set off the season’s goodness. A sentimental Christmas tree salesman recounts his winsome December experiences with Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang.

Nick Curatolo performs as a persuasive Christmas tree salesman in IT’S A WONDERFUL SANTALAND MIRACLE, NUTCRACKING CHRISTMAS STORY… JEWS WELCOME! at Stage 773. Photo by Stephanie Vera Photography.Overall, Stage 773’s amiable satire looks for niches in Christmas lore, love and life to explore in song or skit: Jews who want the best of both holidays, a gospel-style sermon about suffering souls whose food allergies cramp their cuisine (sung right before the free eggnog gets distributed); the real bios behind anonymous actors who play reindeer; the non-competitive non-Christmases (Hanukah, Kwanza, Jehovah’s Witnesses, atheism) for whom it’s “just another day”; angels tired of plucking harps who turn to rock; and a luau-laden Hawaiian carol (complete with hula hoops, a big beach ball, and leis). A ballet of doll automatons vaguely alludes to The Nutcracker. An audience member suddenly finds himself accused in an “intervention” of incompetent gift-giving. One of the show’s few serious songs is performed in ASL.

A few sketches suffer from half-baked premises: A Victorian governess regrets how her life went south after Ebenezer Scrooge forced a goose on her. A pledge drive strives to eradicate the evil of “pronouns without antecedents.” There’s a witless, Christmas-style parody of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine (this is what killed vaudeville).

James McGuire takes the role of Scrooge (The Villain’s Song) in IT’S A WONDERFUL SANTALAND MIRACLE, NUTCRACKING CHRISTMAS STORY… JEWS WELCOME! at Stage 773. Photo by Stephanie Vera Photography.Like a naked Christmas tree, this show badly needs trimming—and in the cluttered and clumsy second act it even outwears its welcome. Wittingly or not, Santaland goes from irritating to offensive. There are real stinkers here, like the mockery of “Silent Night” played by a talentless jug band, and two frenzied and incompetent hip-hop numbers by the all-white cast (which perversely testifies to the lack of African-American or Hispanic performers).

Worst of all is a truly tasteless bit where a soldier who lost a limb relates how someone stole his prosthetic device. He finds his artificial leg made into a tacky lamp. He gets it back but can’t remove the hose. Totally antithetical to the spirit of the season, this ugly “joke” insults wounded veterans everywhere. (Ho, ho—what!?) Like a fourth of the material here, it should be stuffed back up the chimney.

Well, some stockings conceal coals. Others have sugar plums and marzipan. Here you get both—plus free eggnog and sugar cookies. Choose your adventure.

photos by Stephanie Vera Photography

It’s a Wonderful Santaland Miracle,
Nut Cracking Christmas Story… Jews Welcome!

Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont
Fri and Sat at 8:15; Sun at 3
scheduled to end on December 28, 2014
for tickets, call 773.327.5252 or visit www.Stage773.com

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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