Peggy Sue Dunigan

A Cudahy Caroler Christmas

By - Dec 4th, 2007 02:52 pm
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Photo by Mark Frohna

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Bringing back that “old Cudahy Caroler magic” is Stasch Zielinski’s mission in A Cudahy Caroler Christmas, In Tandem Theatre’s co-presentation with the Marcus Center and a Milwaukee holiday favorite. Returning to Vogel Hall in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts Thanksgiving weekend, this production features both new and returning cast members.

Chris Flieller – who is also In Tandem’s artistic director – has been in the cast since the original 2001 production, and when A Cudahy Caroler Christmas finishes this run on January 5, 2008, he will have performed the narrating role of Stasch Zielinski 150 times. The play ran for three sold-out seasons in the 90-seat Walker’s Point Center for the Arts on National Avenue, then took a year-long hiatus, fortunately returning to charm the city in a larger venue.

Chris’s wife, Jane Flieller, Administrative Director for the company and the director of this production, offered fresh insight into this slightly irreverent tradition during an interview at the theatre’s new home, Tenth Street Theatre, still under construction. Next year the new stage here will offer a completely different seasonal production for subscribers whether or not Cudahy Caroler returns to Vogel Hall. Jane believes that In Tandem is known for their alternative holiday storytelling; several of her patrons have asked her to bring back the R-rated Eight Reindeer Monologues. A Cudahy Caroler Christmas is suggested entertainment for those over the age of thirteen, with a smart script and 15 clever, tightly twisted parodies of classic carols to keep everyone in the audience laughing.

Interspersed between these delightfully devilish melodies (arranged by Milwaukee’s Jamie Johns) is a loosely constructed story about The Cudahy Carolers, who were disbanded by an unresolved argument between best friends, Stasch and Pee Wee Kaputish. Reuniting the crew, complete with their psycho piano man Myron, is central to the satire. Jane says the absurdity of the situation, and the underlying cause of the argument, offers a ray of real Christmas hope.

“Some of the slightest, silliest incidents create longstanding arguments and destroy friendships in real life,” says Jane. “The play tries to point out how no incident, even as absurd as the one in Cudahy Carolers, is too big to ever be unforgivable or forgiven by a friend.”

The ensemble for this 2007 production is the strongest yet, and their professional voices ring out, singing lines like “My biggest fear, we’re out of beer.” Each cast member gave an enthusiastic performance, especially Alison Mary Forbes as Trixie Schlaarb, the alcoholic librarian. Chris Flieller perfects the persona of Stasch, while David Bonofiglio’s Myron Nitzke plays beautiful piano throughout the two acts, and at the end, after a heartfelt rendition of “O Bowling Night,” the audience is sad to see these crazed characters of Milwaukee’s culture leave the stage.

With silver and red trimmings around the three sequenced sets and the stage decked with evergreens and white lights, A Cudahy Caroler Christmas creates its own brand of seasonal magic. This alternative take on the holidays is, as Jane says, “something completely different.” In Tandem runs this popular Christmas tradition through the first week in January so everyone is able to experience the show and appreciate the absurd humor that is a part of every holiday celebration. VS

In Tandem Theatre presents A Cudahy Caroler Christmas in Vogel Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through January 5, 2008. For information call 414-273-7206.

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