A Cute 'Every Christmas Story Ever Told' (but Has Little Bite)

By Jenn McKee

For those who need a LOT of Christmas, right this very minute, Two Muses Theatre presents Michael Carleton, James FitzGerald and John K. Alvarez's comedic mash-up, "Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some)."

The show essentially roasts the very chestnuts - sorry, I couldn't help myself - that get trotted out every year around the holidays: "A Christmas Carol," Frosty, Rudolph, "It's a Wonderful Life," the Grinch, etc.

The set-up has Pete Podolski - dressed by costume designer Barbie Weisserman in a top hat and an uber-fussy cravat - launching into a narration of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" when he's stopped by co-stars Jonathan Jones and Nancy Cooper, who long to break out of the relentless "Christmas Carol" loop. Together, the two performers urge Podolski to pay homage to, and incorporate, many more of the BHCs (Beloved Holiday Classics).

Of course, despite the show's title, attendees won't really see every Christmas story. (Wasn't there one about the birth of some baby?) And if you're thinking of bringing the kids, they should be old enough to not be heartbroken by a brutally honest (and hilarious) analysis of the logistical impossibilities of Santa's journey.

Indeed, the show is best suited for adults who grew up on Claymation Christmas TV specials and classic holiday films. (Jokes that refer to the Donner Pass, The Dating Game, Who's on First, PeeWee Herman and more would seem to back me up on this.) But even for those attendees - and I count myself among them - who fit squarely in this category may find themselves enjoying isolated moments more than the show as a whole.

Why? While some of the jokes made at the expense of these familiar stories are funny, the sensibility that drives the show's humor is not so bracing or sharp that it makes you sit up and take notice. Sure, some choice barbs earn an occasional chuckle, and two instances of an audience member being brought on stage offer some welcome opportunities for spontaneity, but more often than not, "Every Christmas"' comic terrain feels a bit familiar.

For the show's aim is a tricky one: to poke fun at the tales while simultaneously inviting the audience to re-experience them in truncated ways. And those in the crowd who sympathize with the two performers who are sick to death of "Christmas Carol" may feel mild dread at watching even a snarky, short, "It's a Wonderful Life" mash-up version unfold.

Regardless, director Diane Hill and her cast offer an animated, energetic production. The three performers play off each other well, with Cooper doing some nice, often funny character work. But Podolski is ultimately the production's anchor, whether it's as the performer whose drive to do "Christmas Carol" is repeatedly stymied; or as the crooked-smile, big-stepping Grinch; or as a ringer for Jimmy Stewart.

Lucy Meyo effectively designed the lights for "Every Christmas," giving the performers a green pallor as they re-enacted The Grinch, among other choices. Bill Mandt designed the set, which evokes a cozy and self-consciously theatrical Christmas interior; and Hill designed the sound with a sure hand - the levels were always well within range of perfect.

One advantage of the show is its deliberate elasticity. Though I'd seen "Every Christmas" before, staged by a different company, the productions were markedly different. But even so, this particular cup of theatrical egg nog could use a bit of spiking.

REVIEW:

' Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some)'

Two Muses Theatre at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 6800 Orchard Lake Road, West Bloomfield. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 22. $10-25. 248-850-9919. http://www.twomusestheatre.org

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