Dallas — What better way to make it through the anxiety, doldrums and joys of the Christmas holidays than a good belly laugh?
If you chose laughter and you’ve had it up to here with ruthless good cheer, you need to see A Christmas Survival Guide, a charming and hilarious musical revue presented by One Thirty Productions at the Bath House Cultural Center.
The show, written in 2003 by James Hindman, John Glaudini and Ray Roderick, links nearly two dozen songs and sketches to the idea that we all hunger for a self-help book to get us through the most deeply commercial time of the year without injuring somebody. And it’s just $24.95!
Director Doug Miller leads a terrific six-member cast of top-drawer actor/musicians in an upbeat afternoon of songs, delivered with a knock-out satiric punch or maybe a suddenly sexy shading. The delight is in the surprising nuance of each singer, shifting the sense of a familiar song to a whole new, often comic, interpretation of the lyrics. Imagine the plight of singing a wistful “Silver Bells” as your stress-inducing cell phone dings away!
Sarah Comley Caldwell is both comic and wistful in her rendition of “Christmas Clichés,” an evocative song cataloguing the carolers and chestnuts of holiday lore, but then admitting to the allure of these traditional images.
Janelle Lutz, doing double duty this holiday season here and in Uptown Players’ A Very Judy Christmas, delivers several Christmas songs with her trademark come-hither playfulness. Her best number is an edgy “Twelve Steps of Christmas,” positing a talent pageant at a rehab clinic that starts earnestly enough, and then explodes in a comic frustration all dieters, ex-smokers and reformed renegades, in general, can appreciate.
Marianne Galloway, an actress familiar to area audiences for her award-winning dramatic roles—and is also doing holiday double duty in the restaging of The Revolutionists from Imprint Theatreworks at Brick Road Theatre in Plano—teases up a rambunctious comic genius and belts out a song like a cabaret singer from, well, the North Pole. She’s hilarious, flirting and vamping, as a wild-eyed nymphomaniac singing “I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus.” Then she really goes psycho-funny as Santa’s sexed-up, neglected wife in a song about her fear that she’s losing her husband to his team of doe-eyed reindeer.
Brain Hathaway, another strong singer with a funny bone, is a perky, hopeless spouse in his duet with Lutz in “The Best Christmas Ever” and in all the ensemble numbers. His Christmas spirit shines brightest when he puts on the red velvet suit and white beard of a Macy’s Santa for “Santa Fantasy,” a song and sketch with Caldwell that reveals the hollowness lots of people feel in the midst of determined holiday high spirits.
Handsome Angel Velasco has his big moment of the evening as an Elvis-style performer in a glittering jacket and tight pants with a funny, hip-thrusting performance of “Santa Claus is Back in Town,” closing the first Act. Near the end of the show, Velasco holds the laughter-happy audience in his hand for a beautifully sung “Oh Holy Night.”
Pianist Erin McGrew accompanies all the songs, and gets in a jazzy solo or two between numbers. A more conventional medley closes the show, as the singers gather around the piano and sing a few carols celebrating the season in forthright delight amidst Rodney Dobbs set of multiple Christmas trees and stage-framing green branches.
We leave humming “Joy to the World,” the perfect phrase to describe the lovely afternoon scene we see, as White Rock Lake laps at the shore behind the theater.