Milwaukee playwright Neil Haven’s Who Killed Santa? reaches its 10th anniversary this month. The dark, silly murder mystery comedy makes its way to the LVL Events stage in Walker’s Point this holiday season. Once again Santa, Mrs. Claus, a police detective from the North Pole, the Tooth Fairy and a whole bunch of puppets find themselves at an ill-fated holiday party that is beset by multiple homicides.
Bo Johnson returns once again as the four non-puppet characters. He’s as sharp as ever with the light, pleasantly superficial comedy. Fellow WKS? veteran Nate Press also makes a return appearance once again as the loveably dim-witted Frosty the Snowman. Press continues to be immensely enjoyable in the role.
Grace DeWolff has developed a clever sense of characterization with the puppet of Tiny Tim. DeWolff has a really good Dickensian cockney accent and a suitably appealing voice for the adorable, little cripple. As appealing as this is, it’s DeWolff’s articulation and subtle emotion with the puppet that really makes for an endearing performance. Of particular note are scenes between her and Chastity the Little Drummer Girl. Tiny Tim has a crush on Chastity. With fuzzy puppet fingers nervously tapping on a tabletop and subtly shy motions and movement, Tim’s anxiety is irresistible.
This time around Kendall Yorkey plays Chastity the Little Drummer Girl. She brings a remarkably powerful singing voice to a role that has her singing lead on a Neil Haven parody of “Lady Marmalade“ among other bits. (It's infectious. Really. I’ve seen the show enough over the years that “Lady Marmalade” actually sounds like a Christmas song to me.) Yorkey brings a bit of the pop diva to a sexually suggestive puppet. (I know: it’s kinda weird) The character makes a lot of aesthetic sense with a singing voice as strong as Yorkey’s.
It’s also nice to see Tawnie Thompson in anything, but it’s especially cool to see her here as an edgy, drunken Rudolph. Puppet-maker Dan Katula based the puppet after the old wholesome Rankin and Bass image of the character. The visual of this cheery, little 1960s stop-motion reindeer hero drinking and getting violent makes for fun comedy. Thompson has a grasp of the physicality of the puppet that makes the drunkenness and the violence all the more palpable. She brings out the physical aggression quite vividly.
JJ Gatesman takes on the role of The Little Drummer Boy. The character is all grown-up and looking very metal. The character’s connection with Tiny Tim is that much more palpable in this particular incarnation of the show. There’s a physical connection between the two characters that enhances an already vivid reality for the puppets this year. Katula’s ten year old puppets have always had the great physical potential. This year they seem that much more vivid than they have in the past thanks to a little bit closer attention to the puppeteering.
The LVL Events space is very comfortable. The layout of the place balances the intimacy of the stage against a very spacious area beyond the stage. There’s a bar and a place where attendees might take pictures beneath a giant “Who Killed Santa?” logo. It’s a really classy space for a show as irreverent as Haven’s irrepressible holiday spoof.
Neil Haven’s Who Killed Santa? runs through December 30th at LVL Events (on the second floor of LVL Dance) on 801 S. 2nd St. For ticket reservations, visit Who Killed Santa Online.