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Santa Babies (from left) Dixie (Julie Klein), Dolly (Stacie Boord) and Dorothy (Stephanie Shull) return for Holiday Hoopla 2014 (Shadowbox Live photo)

Santa Babies (from left) Dixie (Julie Klein), Dolly (Stacie Boord) and Dorothy (Stephanie Shull) return for Holiday Hoopla 2014 (Shadowbox Live photo)

By Richard Ades

The audience for Holiday Hoopla’s opening night may have been a bit small, but what it lacked in size, it made up in lack of spirit.

Skit after skit drew only titters, leading me to wonder whether it was simply too early for folks to get in the Christmas spirit. After all, we hadn’t even made it to Thanksgiving yet.

Then again, maybe the patrons were already suffering from seasonal affective disorder, courtesy of an early blast of wintry weather.

Of course, one can’t discount the possibility that the main problem was the material, which is neither great nor fresh. Much of the show is very familiar, and the skits that aren’t familiar are short on comedy.

The biggest dud is Cookie Party, the tale of a holiday family get-together. You could call this the classic example of a piece with more funny characters than funny lines except that the characters aren’t all that hilarious.

Slightly more success is enjoyed by the three skits featuring Santa Claus (David Whitehouse). The best of them is Elf Reflection, in which St. Nick’s helpers watch a Lord of the Rings movie and come to the conclusion that they aren’t talented enough to be real elves. It’s a clever premise, but it needs more laughs to make it a winner.

Another Santa skit, Naughty Appeals, also fits into the more-clever-than-funny category. But at least it’s better than Santa Breaks Down, which relies on forced jokes such as a woman confusing “origami” with “orgasm.”

One of most familiar skits is Kidsmas Carol, in which a harried teacher (Stephanie Shull) tries to shepherd a cast of grade-schoolers through a performance of A Christmas Carol. The few chuckles it generates are mostly provided by Julie Klein’s spunky portrayal of the girl playing Scrooge. Maybe we’ve seen this chestnut once too often.

Yet familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. The biggest laughs on opening night were produced by the Santa Babies, a comically bad lounge act featuring Klein, Stephanie Shull and Stacie Boord. True, they offer little variation on the shtick they’ve been doing for years, but that seems to be good enough for many. And it was plenty good enough for a group of kids sitting near me, who cracked up every time the flirtatious Dolly (Boord) showed off her spankies.

Personally, I wish the Santa Babies would vary their routine more from year to year. Meanwhile, I like them best when they play it straight, cranking out harmonies worthy of that swing-era act known as Andrews Sisters.

Even without those rare moments, Hoopla has an abundance of good music. And unlike the comedy, it doesn’t lose its effectiveness when it’s been heard in previous incarnations of the show.

Children Go Where I Send Thee (sung by Klein), The Old Man (sung by Stev Guyer), The Hounds of Winter (sung by Leah Haviland), Oi to the World (sung by Amy Lay and Haviland): It wouldn’t be Hoopla without these returning classics.

Other entertaining tunes include James Taylor’s version of Jingle Bells (sung by JT Walker III), the BillWho? band’s metal version of Sugar Plum Fairy (from The Nutcracker), Lullay Lullay (sung by Nikki Fagin) and I’ve Longed for Christmas (sung by Boord).

Speaking of which, Holiday Hoopla 2014 should go over better once the audience actually starts longing for Christmas. But it wouldn’t hurt if Shadowbox worked on improving the product in the meantime.

Holiday Hoopla continues through Dec. 27 at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front St. Show times are 7:30 p.m. select Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. select Fridays-Saturdays, plus 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22 (no shows Nov. 25-27 or Dec. 24-25). Running time: 2 hours (including intermission). Tickets are $20-$50. 614-416-7625 or shadowboxlive.org.

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