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Wednesday, December 23,2009

Christmas cheers

LCP, Riverwalk stage holiday delights

by Tom Helma
Put away the Kleenex, there’s no use crying. If you didn’t see it last weekend, you have already missed the last performance of Lansing Civic Players Underground’s Christmasthemed show, “I’ll Make Merry When I’m Good and Ready,” a classic example of the quaint genre of theater often described as “skits.”

Is there a taller, loopier, more effervescent angel in God’s entire firmament than the Christmas angel, Hope, played by Laura Croff? How about a more gnarly, dwarfish elf than Snarly, played by Jane Zussman?


This dueling duo of comic yuletide fruitcakes evoked the best of the worst examples of cornball Christmas humor. Are they Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance? Cagney and Lacey? Laurel and Hardy? How about Mutt and Jeff?


Hope, dressed to kill in a shimmering, white satin cheerleader uniform, flits and flaunts around the stage. Meanwhile, Snarly sneers, grumps and crabwalks a bad-back lilt, scrunching her face in a manner reminiscent of baseball great Satchel Paige.


Together, they knocked the stockings off of the audience, and the laughs floated out of the Civic Players’ firehouse basement and into the city streets.


This was really bad theater at its best, a loose concoction of disjointed pieces ridiculous enough that one laughed in embarrassing disbelief, shook one’s head and then succumbed to the “Mayhem of the Night.”


A two-dimensional, plywood Christmas Tree featured “Laugh-In”-like holes through which Christmas bulb heads popped. Lea Shelton’s head popped out, portraying a Sarah Palin sound-alike, while Kat Cooper perfectly mimicked the voice of the woman from the Medawar Jewelers commercials.


Sineh Wurie gave us a weirdo Harry Potter, while Tim Cody peeked out to remind us of Chanukah. Rick Wendorf, as a general from the Confederacy, added what could have been the loudest projection of an actor on earth.


Whatever the hell they were talking about and whatever it had to do with the plot (something about Hope shedding her training wings and getting a real pair), God only knows, but it was painfully funny.


The supporting cast came out from behind the tree a bit later to mimic oddball children reciting inventive, off-thewall pieces for a school Christmas pageant, which triggered more snorting laughs, and then we were back to the plot.


Hope earned her wings by trying to get Snarly to re-experience the true meaning of Christmas, which is apparently to get silly and laugh a lot.


This was Christmas buffoonery at its finest, and you probably missed it.


***


In the race to see which theater company can squeeze in the very last-minute Christmas extravaganza nostalgia show before the actual day of celebration, Riverwalk Theatre offered up a homegrown, original script by Ann Sincox and Carol Ferris.


“Ned Neighborly Christmas Hour: Radio Memories 1953” was a fairly accurate sendup of the radio shows of the 1950s, bringing back memories [for this critic] of being 14 and lying on the living room floor with eyes closed, listening to the radio dramas of the day.


It is a different era now, and the humor and pacing of the ‘50s seems a bit more clunky. Still, Riverwalk gets extra credit for coming up with a stage play ready for making the rounds at assisted living centers for elders to re-experience.


Eve Davidson was ridiculously funny animating the sounds of Sky Chief’s Bluebird airplane in trouble, and Emily English’s doggy version of “Jingle Bells” got the whole cast, and a few audience members, woofing along. What fun!


The two children in the play, Nic and Lexie Roberts, playing the McDougal kids, were highly animated and enthusiastic, and Diane Spicer, as Sarah Louise Logan, sang a sultry version of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”


What made the play a notch better than it might otherwise have been was the careful attention paid to local period details by Sincox and Ferris. Commercials were replicas of the actual ads of the time, and the “Sweet Tones” harmonic singers of Emily English and Mandy Dallaire Fuller, decked out in poodle skirts with multiple crinolines and accompanied by Sincox on piano, were sweeter than two sticks of peppermint candy canes.


The performance was rounded out by Gordon Hicks, as announcer Ron Smiley; David Sincox, as host Ned Neighborly; and Marilyn Steegstra, Bob Murrel and Susan Chmurynsky, as the Ned Neighborly Players.


Cookies were served, and everyone went off filled with thoughts of sugarplums dancing in their heads. And to all, a good night.


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