A Cudahy Caroler’s Christmas

By - Dec 1st, 2006 02:52 pm
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By Russ Bickerstaff

Stasch, Pee Wee, Zeke, Nellie and the rest of the Cudahy Carolers return again this Christmas as In Tandem Theatre presents another holiday season of regional musical comedy with A Cudahy Caroler’s Christmas. Having been unduly bounced out of the intimate performance space at the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, In Tandem launches the hit holiday musical in the much more luxurious space that is the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall.

This year’s Cudahy Caroler Christmas is the same show that Milwaukee audiences have come to know and love in a substantially bigger space. However, the same show Anthony Wood wrote nearly half a decade ago struggles a bit to fill a bigger auditorium, suffering some small amount from the extra space. Lost somewhere in the transition to Vogel is the sense of immersion in musical comedy that is far bigger than the space it fills. While the auditorium has changed, the show’s content hasn’t. The show features all the old favorite Cudahy Caroler songs with the same old story. Chris Flieller returns to play old Stasch Zielinski who sets aside his differences with former best friend Pee Wee (the returning Joel Kopischke) to get the many estranged Cudahy Carolers back together for one more concert to be televised on local access cable. Other welcome returns to the cast include Kristen L. Pawlowski as Nellie,the lovely, aspiring Tommy Bartlett water ski queen and Ken Williams as as big, shy Zeke who has a tremendous, mildly perverse crush on her.

As with previous seasons, the show sounds distinctly different than it has in the past as several new faces lend their voices to this year’s production. Linda Stieber makes a thoroughly enjoyable In Tandem debut as lonely stylist caroler Wanda. Far and away the most impressive is Alison Mary Forbes in the role of young, alcoholic librarian Trixie Schlaarb. The character always seemed to be the weakest one in the entire cast. A prim and nervous librarian who gets extremely wild when she gets drunk feels like something of an uninspired comedic space-filler. This is not Anthony Woods at his most inventive. However, Forbes takes Wood’s weakest character a lot further than she deserves to go. Forbes’ performance of the “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” parody is one of the more memorable performances from this year’s production. Wood gave the librarian some of the least funny moments in the musical, but Forbes manages to be staggeringly funnier than the material she’s given to perform here.

Vogel Hall itself (its interior bearing some resemblance to the set of a 1970’s game show) seems slightly out of step with the production onstage. Chris Flieller’s set, which worked so well for so many years on a smaller stage, doesn’t work as well in Vogel. The set of rotating walls represent a number of different locations, but here they point forward at skewed angles, revealing other locations just as clearly to people near the far edges of the auditorium. Most of the cast makes the transition to a larger auditorium quite successfully, though. Even though opening night, Ken Williams’ voice didn’t carry nearly as far as it needed to; the choreography didn’t transfer quite well; some of the visual gags lost potency. But for the most part, this is the same Cudahy Caroler show that has been so successful in the past. VS

A Cudahy Caroler’s Christmas runs now through December 31st at the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 414-273-7206. More info is available online at www.intandemtheater.com.

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