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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 12, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 50
Darkness on the Eve of Christmas
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Darkness on the Eve of Christmas

by Paul Torres - SGN Contributing Writer

JUDY'S SCARY
LITTLE CHRISTMAS
ARTSWEST
Through December 28


When an uninvited dark guest comes caroling, the celebrity holiday reveling at July Garland's Christmas Eve party takes a dark and maudlin tone. This is the other side of a white Christmas. The black comedy/musical Judy's Scary Little Christmas is a funny, frosty, and even heartrending yuletide tale of fame and mortality.

Set up as a Judy Garland live TV show comeback Christmas special in the mid-1950s, this play opens to a lively opening with Judy belting out a Christmas song with three sexy young men dancing back up. Her quick and saucy banter delights the TV show audience. As the real ArtsWest audience plays the studio audience, we become an active part of this story. Cue applause!

Our first guest is classic crooner Bing Crosby, followed by pianist Liberace, Broadway singer Ethel Merman, writer Lillian Hellman, future president Richard Nixon, and finally (at her bitchy best), actress Joan Crawford.

This boozy night of celebrity mocking, cocktail chitchat, and whimsical song twists and turns like the bitter winter winds. While on-camera, these stars are proud and pompous; and when they are off-camera, they are self-conscious and self-effacing. Even Punch, a sarcastic puppet, trades jibes with the group.

When Judy's door blasts opens by a heavy wind bringing in the dark guest, we commence the blacker side of Christmas. Here it takes a grim and even sober turn. This 'ghost of Christmas denial' begins his diatribe of attack on all the celebrities at Judy's party. He holds no punches. He even calls out Judy on her own ill-fated life of misfortunes and pills. Instead of the joyous Twelve Days of Christmas, we now have the somber twelve steps of Christmas. This is a side of the rainbow that no one wants to be on.

The Dickensian ghost finally offers absolution through the celebrity's respective moments of self-reflection. It is a final saving grace for the beleaguered sensationalized lives of these wayward spirits, alcoholic or otherwise.

Judy's own sweetness shines through with the elegant 'Make It Shine' number with a lonely sailor boy and fan (who came as a midnight dinner date with Liberace and his mother). As a distant trolley clangs from the heavens, there is that hallelujah moment on her judgment day.

Directed and choreographed by Troy Wageman, we are gifted with a diverse array of talent in this American celebrity satire. The cast is led by an exquisitely talented Lisa Mandelkorn as Judy Garland. She heaps on the charm and adult-themed wittiness to the delight of the studio audience. As Ethel Merman, Kate Jaeger is extraordinary for her on-beat remarks and spot-on vocals.

The scathing wit, one-liners, and candid discourse come courtesy of writers James Webber and David Church. The music and lyrics are by Joe Patrick Ward. Together, they create a sneering Christmas play for the silly devils in all of us. You won't see this on any elementary school stage.

ArtsWest is at its holiday best. Judy's Scary Little Christmas is a nervy ode to classic television, Hollywood dreams, and the wonderful and broken truth to the seasons of all our lives.

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