Theatre Review: “The Holiday Stops”
Receiving its world premiere at the Richmond Triangle Players, The Holiday Stops, undermining the cookie-baking, goody-goodness image of your local church organist, commences the Richmond holiday season with a teaspoon’s panache of good ole’ gay Christmas cheer. NALOG (The North American Lady Organists’ Guild) has come to town, bringing with it a boisterous sisterhood of Evangelical Christian, Catholic and Reform Jewish organists.
With the book, music and lyrics by Eric Lane Barnes, it’s the sequel to Barnes’ The Stops, which went on to receive Best Musical at the National Gay and Lesbian Theater Festival in Columbus, Ohio in 2006. Five years later, this gussied-up holiday revue is ecumenical, with Act I covering “Lost Carols from Other Lands” and Act II showcasing “Forgotten Hanukkah Carols,” yet, under the direction of John Knapp, it’s funny but fizzles.
This guild of church (and synagogue) organists consists of prim and proper Euglena Belcher (Todd Minnich), Jewish lesbian Rose Rabinowitz (Steven Boschen), gaudy Southern Baptist Ginny Dooley (Kirk Morton), and newbie Linda White (Andrew Etheredge) singing and dancing in drag on Philip Milone’s sparsely populated set of oversized red and green Christmas gifts wrapped in golden-laced ribbons. It took me until the end of Act I to get used to the set’s austerity but it works well with its piano upstage and strobe lights above.
D. Mark Souza’s costume choices distinguish each organist appropriately in Act I. He’s dressed Rose in a Hanukkah-colored pants suit, Euglena in a Christmas-colored dress, and Ginny in tacky garb with big, blond hair. Justin Amellio’s (previous credit includes director of RTP’s award winning “[title of show]“) choreography captures Barnes’ simple musical arrangements that accompanist Timothy Brewster plays very well offstage. Tim Gillham’s musical direction is assured but the girls can’t always stay on beat or sing lyrically, noticeably in the opening number “Ladies from NALOG—Holiday Style.”
However, The “Walmart Carol” sung in the early part of Act I is particularly comical. Particular favorites include “Maury Has a Bubbe” and “Kugel Carol” – mostly the five songs with the Yiddishkeit humor in Act II.
Speaking of the script, Barnes has written a light, whimsical parody for the holiday season. He’s overstuffed it, however, with heavy narrative arcs dealing with Ginny’s alcoholism and racial tensions between Rose and Linda, particularly in Act II. When these dramatic conflicts get too real, the show’s momentum stops abruptly, making the performance wilt a little.
The exposition could use some editing, and I would recommend that Barnes expand the scope of “Holiday Minute Classics.” I found this piece, consisting of one-minute spoofs on beloved Christmas songs, the highlight of the show. Also, the brisk, lively songs that make up “Lost Carols” and “Forgotten Hanukkah Carols” are cute and catchy.
Barnes may have the proportions between satire and realism a bit off-kilter here, but the production cooks a nice helping of pizzazz with the help of a talented creative team and actors who convincingly inhabit their roles. It’s not a finely wrapped present from Nordstrom on Christmas morning, but more like a stocking suffer that’s still very much appreciated.
4 out of 5 Stars
“The Holiday Stops” runs through Dec. 17, 2011 at Richmond Triangle Players. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.richmondtriangleplayers.com/
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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