A Christmas Survival Guide
By James Hindman and Ray Roderick
Directed by Kevin Smith
Musical Direction by John Mason
The Garden Theatre, Winter Garden Florida
I think this might be the Golden Moment of year end entertainment: Just enough tradition to stay grounded, but enough wink, wink, nudge, nudge realism to avoid the icky sappy egg-noggy hangover so much Christmas theatre defaults to. As a loose bracketing device, the golden voiced Dr. Ted (Wayne Weinburg) writes the helpful “Christmas Survival Guide” to help the stressed and over decorated stumble through the season without cirrhosis or a divorce papers. He reads passages when the show turns a corner, then gracefully slips back stage for a quick hand of gin rummy. The old school part of the show is a sampling of public domain classics (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” ” Oh Holy Night,” “Silent Night”) and a much larger helping of original material done in every up-beat style from boogie-woogie to Elvis. No, they don’t do dub step, this audience is more Lawrence Whelk than Skrillex and they need to sell tickets so they can shop.
Caroline Drage gets us rolling with “All Those Christmas Clichés.” If there’s a dopy seasonal element of the holiday, she’s down with it. Later she teams up with Alex Mrazek as a couple planning their first Holidays; she wants quiet with family, he’s a party animal with a Yoda tree topper. Yoda was cute, lets Google him…by Vader, there he is! A steal at $50 plus shipping… Mrazek closes the first half with a decent Elvis imitation, “Santa Claus Is back in Town” and may even have entered the building. Ms Drage has another outstanding solo with “Surabaya Santa,” maybe Old Nick DES sleep around. And Brecht for Christmas? That IS a new angle. Local bombshell Sara Lee Dobbs shows off with “The Christmas Party / I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa”, later she returns with the wistful “Little Girl Blue.” Amy Martin Cole is a new talent new to me; she does some of the motherly rolls but shines on the cynical “Twelve Steps of Christmas”. She and Ms. Dobbs jump in a sleigh with Kevin Kelly and go dashing through the snow to the emergency room, but there’s cookies and warm IV bottles when they arrive. There’s even a touch of “Charlie Brown Holiday Special” as pianist Mason riffs off the Vince Guaraldi classic. “Christmas Survival Guide” is fun, upbeat and spiffy way to spend an evening between shopping, wrapping, and purging.
For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org