IF YOU GO
What: Musical revue with 19 holiday songs
When: Tuesday through Sunday evenings with selected matinées through Dec. 25.
Where: 1380 Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers (in Royal Palm Square)
Cost: $25 to $46. Show only $25.
Information: 239-278-4422 or broadwaypalm.com
Something Else: Ticket prices include meal & show; show-only tickets available
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
When I saw Christmas lights go up in yards on Nov. 5, I screamed right inside my car. Christmas creep annoys me. Yet, when I sat down to watch the Off-Broadway Palm debut of "A Christmas Survival Guide," my inner Grinch melted away. The show is 90 minutes of holiday fluff, but man, it's some fun.
"A Christmas Survival Guide" is another in a strand of small-cast musical revues churned out by licensing and production company Miracle or 2 Productions. James Hindman and Ray Roderick framed this show around the titular holiday self-help book and added 19 popular (or semi-popular) holiday tunes.
There is no plot, other than "Hey! Hey! Holiday!" There aren't any "characters" - other than vaguely generic husband, wife, friends, etc. The dialogue is clunky at best.
So why does it work? And why was it enough to convince a Grinch like me that Nov. 10 is early enough to break out the eggnog and tinsel?
The show doesn't just worship Velveeta, it grabs the Cheez Whiz, squirts half a can into its mouth, tosses in some pepperoni, maybe an olive, plus a pile of Triscuits and smacks like noisy toddler. "A Christmas Survival Guide" is like diving into one big pile of presents at your house - then going to grandma's for a second round.
Director (and choreographer) Victor Legarreta recognizes the inherent campiness in the piece - lifts it, celebrates it and goes back for more. Except for the most traditional of carols and a couple slow numbers to vary the pace, everything is glittering, glam and amped to the max.
The show's best number - by a blinking red nose - is a big band swing version of "Santa Claus is Back in Town." Jeff March, garbed in a santa suit, grabs a peppermint stick mic and tears it up. Caitlin Newman, Jessica Unice and Danielle Vetro - in red satin with reindeer antlers and candy cane beehives (yes - towering beehives striped like a barber pole) be-bop behind him. They boogie, they swing and they jive - as Santa and his reindeer. I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, clap or simply be amazed.
The more outrageous - the better - like when Vetro "stumbles" through the crowd as a soused partygoer wearing just one bright purple platform shoe, climbs onto the stage, drags out a gigantic 12-foot white feather boa then proclaims that she'd "Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus." The "Twelve Steps of Christmas" piece (an ode to recovery where each line starts "on the X day of Christmas, my sponsor gave to me...") and disaster-prone "An Old-Fashioned Sleigh Ride" bring howls too.
Music director Charles Fornara's sure hand is evident as quiet moments land with bell-like beauty. Newman has the night's first solo - and first big "aha" moment with a thrilling, trilling, soaring and plaintive "All Those Christmas Cliches." Unice scores with a lovely, low, gorgeous version of Julie Gold song "Christmas Eve."
There are parts that don't work; I'm not sure Jason Robert Brown's "Surabaya-Santa" belongs next to "Rudolph" on the list of Christmas classics. While everyone recognized "The True Meaning of Christmas" speech performed by Linus in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," I wish it had been staged a little more smartly instead of feeling tossed in. The audience participation - despite my dislike of it - actually comes off well though.
The simple - but enduringly fanciful snowglobe set captures every Christmas cliche - red & green, candy, presents, snow, trees and stars. It's the best I've seen in the Off-Broadway Palm in years. Whimsical costumes add sparkle - and sometimes a bit of a twist.
Argue all you want about Nov. 10 being too early for Christmas, but the Black Friday ads are already on the Internet, businesses are decorating, carols are on the radio and "A Christmas Survival Guide" is more fun than you're going to have all week.