Snarky Santaland Diaries Worthy of the Naughty List

 

Steven Strafford in the one-man-show of The Santaland Diaries at Goodman Theatre. (Cody Nieset photo)
Steven Strafford in the one-man-show of The Santaland Diaries at Goodman Theatre. (Cody Nieset photo)

3 stars

I still remember the first time I heard the caustic wit of David Sedaris as he performed his “The Santaland Diaries” monologue on NPR’s “This American Life.” I was gobsmacked. This snarky, irreverent essay quickly became a holiday staple in our house, revered as much as our other annual, if slightly less irreverent, family favorite, “A Christmas Story.”

Still, I had never seen the wickedly funny monologue on stage until this week when I headed to the Goodman’s Owen Theatre to spend an hour with Steven Strafford as the not-always-lovable elf named Crumpet.

If you have been living under a rock and have never heard the tale of “The Santaland Diaries,” it is the now-29-year-old story of Sedaris’ time as a Christmas elf at Macy’s flagship New York store.

The biographical story features a 30-something struggling actor, new to the Big Apple and surprised to find that the producers of his favorite soap opera aren’t breaking down his door to hire him for a juicy part. Nearly broke, he reluctantly applies for a job as a Christmas elf.

The story proceeds through the humiliating week-long elf training, the even more humiliating costume, and then, the run-ins with Macy’s customers, more than a few of whom threatened to have him fired.

It ends only when the job does – as the store is closing on Christmas Eve.

Santaland Diaries is at Goodman Theatre. (Steven Strafford in the one-man-show of The Santaland Diaries at Goodman Theatre. (Cody Nieset photo)
Santaland Diaries is at Goodman Theatre. (Steven Strafford in the one-man-show of The Santaland Diaries at Goodman Theatre. (Cody Nieset photo)

I must admit I was more than a little disappointed when Strafford walked out on stage wearing a pair of brown pants and a slightly ratty blue and brown plaid shirt. It is exactly the sort of uniform a struggling unemployed actor might be wearing, but it wasn’t the Crumpet the Elf get-up I was expecting.

Fortunately, it was only about 15 minutes into the evening when he changed right on stage – dropping his brown pants to reveal candy-cane-striped leggings – and narrating each humiliating stage of his transformation into Crumpet.

Strafford did an admirable job of delivering the well-known prose to a highly appreciative audience, including one slightly drunk woman who absolutely guffawed at everything he said.

Much more impressive than his delivery of the words, however, was his hugely expressive face. He switched easily – and so quickly – between the sugary sweet Crumpet and the overly irritated actor who still couldn’t quite believe he had fallen so far.

If you go, arrive early and a take selfie in front of the Santaland Diaries sign – the Goodman has conveniently left a table full of cardboard top hats, candy cane glasses and other Instagram-worthy props.

“The Santaland Diaries” is in the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through Dec. 29, 2019. Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information, call 312-443-3800 or visit Goodman Theatre/Santaland.

Cindy Richards

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Celebrate the Holidays with a ‘White Christmas’

Cast of White Christmas at Theatre at the Center (Michael Brosilow photo)
Cast of White Christmas at Theatre at the Center (Michael Brosilow photo)

3 stars

Who doesn’t love a rousing tap number? If you do, then “White Christmas,” the holiday offering from Munster’s Theatre at the Center, is the holiday song-and-dance show for you.

The musical is the stage adaptation of my mom’s favorite Christmas movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen and Dean Jagger. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was turned into a stage show in 2000.

Munster’s version stars Matt Edmonds as Bob, Justin Brill as Phil, Casiena Raether as Judy, Erica Stephan as Betty and Neil Friedman as General Waverly.

It follows the story of Bob and Phil, singers who served under “The Old Man” in World War II before gaining fame and fortune as entertainers. Looking for romance, they follow sisters Judy and Betty to Vermont where the women are slated to perform on Christmas Eve.

When Bob and Phil learn that the inn is owned by the General who is facing financial ruin because there’s no snow, they rally the old troops to save him.

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Curtis Bannister wows in ‘The Pajama Game’

 

as Brenda, Elizabeth Telford as Babe, Sierra Schnack as Poopsie and Maggie Malaney as Mae in Pajama Game. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
(left to right) Aalon Smith as Brenda, Elizabeth Telford as Babe, Sierra Schnack as Poopsie and Maggie Malaney as Mae in Pajama Game. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

3 stars

If you don’t go see The Pajama Game at The Theatre at the Center for any other reason, go to hear the booming tenor voice of the hunky lead, Curtis Bannister.

The actor who has appeared on NBC’s Chicago Fire, plays Sid Sorokin, the “Chicago guy” and newly hired superintendent at Sleep Tite, a pajama factory in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The factory is a hotbed of union activity and sexual innuendo – both surprising themes for a musical that premiered in the mid-1950s.

The musical started as a 1953 novel, 7 ½ Cents by Richard Bissell based on his experience working in his family pajama factory in Dubuque, Iowa.

Opening to rave reviews on Broadway in 1954 with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, the Tony Award-winning show inspired the 1957 film starring Doris Day. You’ll recognize songs such as “Steam Heat,” “Hey There (You with the Stars in Your Eyes)” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”

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‘Over the Tavern’ recalls bittersweet memories of a Catholic upbringing

 

Janet Ulrich Brooks as Sister Clarissa and Logan Baffico as Rudy in Theatre at the Center's production of "Over The Tavern." (Photo by Guy Rhodes)
Janet Ulrich Brooks as Sister Clarissa and Logan Baffico as Rudy in Theatre at the Center’s production of “Over The Tavern.” (Photo by Guy Rhodes)

3 stars

You don’t have to be a Catholic school graduate to appreciate the battle of wits between the ruler-wielding Sister Clarissa and her vexing charge, 12-year-old Rudy Pazinski, in the laugh-out-loud “Over the Tavern,” now playing at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Ind.

But, if you happen to be a Catholic school graduate, the show, directed by Ericka Mac, is sure to hit home with every slap of that ruler on Rudy’s outstretched hand.

The Wednesday matinee audience guffawed each time Rudy defied the good sister’s demands that he learn his Catechism as it was written, forgoing his own contention that God put us on Earth “to have fun.”

Janet Ulrich Brooks rocks her role as the stern Sister Clarissa who E-Nun-Ci-Ates each word clearly and precisely. Logan Baffico does a good job as Rudy, although his speech got a little rushed as the second act progressed, leading the folks behind me to regularly whisper, “What did he say?”

The cast rounds out with solid performances from Cory Goodrich as Rudy’s mom, Ellen, and Eric Slater as his dad, Chet. Rudy’s siblings are played by Isabelle Roberts (Annie), Seth Steinberg (Eddie) and Julian Solis (Georgie).

The family lives over the tavern owned by Chet and his “Pops,” an alcoholic who is ruining the business. Chet brings his “bad mood” up the stairs each night to dinner with his family who wait in vain for him to remember to pick up the spaghetti dinner he promised.

Cast of Over the Tavern at Theatre at the Center. (Photo by Guy Rhodes)
Cast of Over the Tavern at Theatre at the Center. (Photo by Guy Rhodes)

The family might be troubled, but they are committed to Catholicism. The kids go to Catholic school and they learn the Catechism just as their parents did before them

It all comes to a hilarious head when Sister Clarissa arrives unannounced at the apartment over the tavern to discuss the children.

The semi-autobiographical play written by Tom Dudzick ends with an uplifting turnabout by Dad after a heart-to-heart with Sister Clarissa.

DETAILS: Over the Tavern,  is at Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN through Aug. 11, 2019. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. For more information, call (219) 836-3255 or visit TheatreAtTheCenter.

Cindy Richards

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Dames at Sea’ is campy fun

(left to right) Sam Shankman (Lucky), Sierra Schnack (Joan), Kelly Felthous (Ruby) and Todd Aulwurm (Dick) at Theatre at the Center, (Photo by Brett Beiner)
(left to right) Sam Shankman (Lucky), Sierra Schnack (Joan), Kelly Felthous (Ruby) and Todd Aulwurm (Dick) at Theatre at the Center, (Photo by Brett Beiner)

3 stars

What’s not to love about a show that opens with a rousing tap number? Nothing, it turns out. “Dames at Sea,” the newest production at the Theatre at the Center in Munster, IN, is pure campy fun, from the first minute to the last.

It follows the story of Ruby. She’s fresh off the bus from Utah and in search of a career as a dancer on Broadway. She hasn’t eaten in three days, forgets her suitcase on the bus in her rush to get a job as a dancer, falls into a job dancing on a chorus line in a Broadway production, and catches the eye of a sailor who pledges his love for her — all in the delightful course of her first day in New York.

“Dames at Sea” is a long-running, Off Broadway hit that made Bernadette Peters a star in 1969. Kelly Felthous, the tiny blond firecracker who plays Ruby, channels her inner Bernadette Peters in this production, complete with spunky tapping, high-pitched voice and impish smile. (Ashley Lanyon takes over the role of Ruby from May 22-June 2.)

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A beauty of a ballet

It was impressive that the young dancers onstage for A&A Ballet’s May 4th performance of“Sleeping Beauty” were not thrown off by a cell phone ringing throughout the first half.

A stage manager solved that problem after intermission by asking audience members to turn off their phones completely, not just set them to silent. That was because the cell phones were interfering with the wireless systems in the Studebaker Theater, he said.

Whether that was true or not, it resolved the issue of the rude audience member so the rest of us were able to fully focus on the beauty onstage.

The matinee performance of the A&A Ballet featured a multi-cultural and multi-generational cast of impressive ballerinas, including some tiny tots who couldn’t have been cuter in their sheep costumes.

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