Matthew Reddin

Christmas at the Black Lagoon

Off the Wall spoofs a kitschy, horror movie classic and gives it a holiday slant.

By - Dec 18th, 2013 10:54 am
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Nathan Danza) falls in love with this holiday season at Off the Wall Theatre.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Nathan Danza) falls in love with a beautiful and brainy adventurer (Mark Hagen) this holiday season at Off the Wall Theatre.

Milwaukee, meet your new holiday hero: The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

That’s what Dale Gutzman hopes, at least. He’ll be bringing the Creature to life in Off the Wall’s holiday offering, a comedy-horror romp he’s fine-tuned for the Christmas season.

Gutzman says The Creature from the Black, Black Lagoon is stylistically a mashup of Christmas flicks, Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “Road” movies and Rocky Horror Picture Show-styled parodies. Set on Christmas Eve, the musical follows a group of intrepid adventurers as they explore the Amazon and inadvertently stumble onto a jungle girl trying not to get sacrificed to the God of the Deep – aka, the Creature itself, who falls in love with one of the explorers. It’s a horrible idea for a movie – which Gutzman says makes it the perfect plot for a holiday B-movie parody.

He came up for the idea in the midst of Off the Wall’s last big cinematic spoof: 2011’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, a theatrical staging of the classic film starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Much like Creature (and some of Off the Wall’s other fare), Baby Jane featured intentionally stiff acting, cross-dressing leads, elaborate stagecraft and lots of loving irreverence for its subject material. Shortly after Baby Jane closed, Gutzman says, he sat down, wrote basically all of The Creature from the Black, Black Lagoon and set it aside to wrap up at a later time, when it fit into Off the Wall’s schedule.

Later turned out to be now, when plans for Off the Wall’s original Christmas show, a Cole Porter-themed musical revue called Cole for Christmas, fell through due to the sudden unavailability of its musical director and three of its leading ladies. Undaunted, Gutzman grabbed Creature, tossed in some holiday songs and a Christmas Eve setting, and had a ready-to-go replacement.

All of which says a great deal about his approach to producing theater. “If you can’t get the right cast, it hurts the quality of the show,” Gutzman says. This isn’t the first time he’s altered a planned season lineup when the casting wasn’t just right. “Being successful at that is the characteristic of a good theater company. Casting is key.”

It helps that Gutzman has cultivated a stable of talented regulars, many of whom will return to his stage for Creature. Mark Hagen will play the erotic water ballet-performing female lead, Kay Laverne, a role Gutzman wrote with him in mind after his performance in Baby Jane. He’ll be supported by his Baby Jane co-star and frequent comic foil, Jeremy Welter, playing the socially awkward marine biologist hero David Reed. Gutzman’s rounded out the expedition with a wealthy rival for Kay’s affections (Jeff Anderson), an overly nice doctor (James Feeley), a creepy boat captain (Lawrence J. Lukasavage), a jungle girl who “moves like a potato sack full of doorknobs” (Alicia Rice) and the Creature itself (Nathan Danzer).

Gutzman says Creature, like Off the Wall’s other shows, will make effective use of its smaller theater. He says they’ve managed to create both a full boat and a jungle set, designed by Gutzman and built by technical director David Roper, despite the space constraints. “We always try to do extravagant effects,” Gutzman says. “That’s the fun of it.”

The Creature from the Black, Black Lagoon opens Wednesday, Dec. 18, and runs through Dec. 31 at Off the Wall Theatre. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 4 p.m. and an 8 p.m. New Year’s Eve show; tickets are $25, $30 on New Year’s Eve. Order tickets at


PREVIEW: T.I.M. (The Improvised Musical) Holiday Show, at ComedySportz

There’s a T.I.M. show every third Thursday of the month, but if you haven’t made it to one yet, this “Timsmas” bash is a prime opportunity to see this team of improv artists at their holiday best. The premise of a T.I.M. show is simple enough – a group of talented actors and musicians get up on stage and use audience suggestions to improvise a whole one-act musical, from scratch – but for Christmas that brand-new musical will have some holiday flair. For you regulars, the event also will be providing an opportunity for at least one former member of the team to make a cameo appearance, so show up to see who’s dropped in. T.I.M. (The Improvised Musical) takes place at ComedySportz one night only: Thursday, Dec. 19, at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $5, cash only. Reservations are recommended; call (414) 272-8888.

PREVIEW: Home for Christmas, at the Brumder Mansion

"Home for Christmas," a new, old-style holiday musical about a family trying to reconnect after WWII, runs at the Brumder Mansion through this weekend.

“Home for Christmas,” a new, old-style holiday musical about a family trying to reconnect after WWII, runs at the Brumder Mansion through this weekend.

I’ve managed to do a good job of keeping abreast of theatrical developments since taking up the beat, but every once in a while I miss one. I missed the first week of Home for Christmas, a brand-new holiday musical getting staged at the Brumder Mansion by its writer/director/actor Liz Shipe and composer Brian Myers. It’s the sort of show I like too – a homegrown play that takes an old style and makes it look new again. In this case, that style is the ‘40s/‘50s movie musical; set just after WWII, Home for Christmas tells the story of a family throwing a holiday party and trying to get back to normalcy, despite their eldest son’s post-war problems and the tension between him and his ex-fiancee.

Fortunately, there is still a chance for you and I see to see the show, whose run extends through this week, with evening performances Dec. 18 to 21 at 7 p.m., two 2:30 p.m. matinees Dec. 21 and 22, and an early evening show Dec. 22 at 6 p.m. Tickets (which come with a buffet-style dinner) are $38, or $45 to get admission to an after-show party with the cast; students and seniors get a $10 discount. To order, call (414) 388-9104.



Milwaukee Rep: Noises Off, A Christmas Carol

The Quasimondo: Americlown

Fireside Theatre: A Fireside Christmas


Milwaukee Rep: Forever Plaid

First Stage: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Skylight Music Theatre: Les Miserables

In Tandem Theatre: A Cudahy Caroler Christmas

Sunset Playhouse: It’s A Wonderful Life

Alchemist Theatre: A Kick in the Dickens

Milwaukee Ballet: The Nutcracker

Categories: Theater

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