In Tandem Theater assembles a solid evening of entertainment with its latest. Merry Chris-Mess it is a cute program of sketches and songs and other assorted bits of spoofery that runs over 2 hours with intermission.
It’s always really refreshing to see a show like this put together. There's so much new material.Not everything is perfect, but maintains enough charm to keep the fun rolling from beginning to end.
Much of the show was written by local funnyman Anthony Wood. The mind behind A Cudahy Caroler Christmas generates a few moments of genuine cleverness in in the midst of humor that ranges from a very, very silly to reasonably deep. Sometimes things feel drawn-out a little bit longer than they should be. Wood doesn’t always know exactly where to end a sketch. The worst offender on length is a bit featuring a sharply funny Emmitt Morgans as an elf leading a meeting of a labor union of Arctic elves who work for Santa was clever, but it the joke is exhausted a few minutes before the end of the sketch.
Some sketches just don’t feel at home in a holiday show. There’s a hardboiled noir parody featuring dashing Sean Duncan as a doggy detective looking for a ball for a poodle femme fatale played by a cleverly comic Jocelyn Ridgely. It’s fun, but it doesn’t exactly fit into the holiday motif, interrupting the flow of things a bit. At least it’s fun, though. There is a somewhat tedious sketch with a couple of guys on a desert island that probably could’ve been omitted all together.
More often than not, Wood does manage to do some really interesting stuff. Of particular note is one of Wood’s darker fits of humor. The stylish “Secret Santa” spoofs the Johnny Rivers song “Secret Agent Man.” Santa is envisioned as a shadowy figure who gives gifts to good kids and executes the naughty ones. It’s darkly funny stuff that manages a tastefully disturbing edge. Even a little bit darker and the comedy would tumble into something very sinister.
Wood returns to his single most successful show with a couple of new musical Christmas parodies by the Cudahy Carolers including the deliciously heartwarming “Oh Come Let’s Have Some Fish Fry.” It’s always nice to see Chris Flieller back onstage as Stasch Zielinski from Cudahy.
The bulk of the program features Zach Thomas Woods doing a respectable Jimmy Stewart impression as George Bailey in a spoof of It’s A Wonderful Life. Capra’s film is such an institution. It’s been spoofed so many times. Aspects of Wood’s particular take on the spoof have appeared elsewhere before. It would be almost impossible to find a truly fresh approach to spoofing the classic. Anthony Wood’s satirical edge might feel a bit weak in the short but the ensemble does a really good job of delivering it with respectably heavy humor.
Zach Thomas Woods brings a charmingly massive stage presence to the central role of a comically twisted George Bailey. Liz Shipe manages to sneak in some subtle bits of comedy in the role of Bailey’s brother. Recent Marquette graduate Anna Otto is also given a rather cleverly comic role in the spoof as the silent, unflappably austere assistant to a grossly flatulent villain Old Man Potter (played by a suitably evil Chris Flieller.) The rest of the ensemble really comes together quite well in the single best part of the evening. Had the It’s a Wonderful Life sketch been just a little bit longer, it could have edged-out a few of the less accomplished sketches, for a more enjoyable show overall. It might have been a bit less of an evening, though. Even in a market somewhat saturated with comedy, an uneven evening of silly sketches is still rare enough to make a festive holiday comedy variety show well worth attending.
In Tandem Theatre’s Merry Chris-Mess runs through Jan. 6th at the Tenth Street Theatre on 628 N. 10th St. For ticket reservations and more, visit In Tandem online.