BETC’s ‘Every Christmas Story’ at Boulder’s Dairy Center a festive romp: review
Trio of performers adept at both scripted and improv comedy
by A.H. Goldstein (Read the original.)
It’s the holiday season once again, and that, of course, means it’s time to take a seat in front of the fire, roast some chestnuts and listen to the classic tale of Gustave the Green-Nosed Reingoat.
Wait, you’ve never heard the timeless story of Gustave, the hybrid goat with a shining, pea soup-colored schnoz who saves Christmas after visiting the Island of the Misfit Toys? Fair enough — you’re probably not alone. Thankfully, the spin-off of the more universally recognized story of Rudolph is one of the dozens of holiday narratives packed into the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s production of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some!), currently running at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder.
Every Christmas Story, which BETC first produced last year, is one of two holiday entries in the troupe’s current season, and the only one running on its home turf (the company’s annual, partnered production of The Santaland Diaries is currently running at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.) In a larger season marked by weighty themes and serious issues, this show serves as the company’s opportunity to indulge in some sheer silliness and zaniness; it’s a chance for a troupe that’s burnished its reputation as a home for new works and sober drama to let loose.
A frenzied, frenetic compilation of Christmas stories and holiday lore pulled from the breadth of American pop culture, Western tradition and beyond, Every Christmas Story is a nonstop assault of tongue-in-cheek cheer. Featuring actors Casey Andree, Brian Kusic and Justin Walvoord, the show is structured like an intimate, stand-up comedy performance. In between scripted sketches and vignettes, the actors pull up audience members for participatory scenes, and they weave in suggestions from the crowd.
It all makes for a dizzying, rapid-fire holiday comedy, one that offers plenty in the way of hits and very few misses. Andree, Kusic and Walvoord all display a well-honed expertise in the ways of comedy — scripted and improv — and director Rebecca Remaly helps find the full potential of the script by Michael Carleton, Jim Fitzgerald and John K. Alvarez.
That’s no small feat, considering the sheer density of that script. Apart from the modified tale of Rudolph — changed to Gustave, Kusic explains, due to copyright concerns tied to the red-nosed reindeer’s commercial origins as a department-store holiday mascot in 1939 — most of the fare presented in the show should ring familiar for all. What kicks off as another straightforward presentation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol rapidly derails into a tour of tales that includes the Grinch, Frosty the Snowman, Love, Actually, A Charlie Brown Christmas and more. Even Christmas carols find the exhaustive treatment, as the trio of comedians offer a medley that seeks to squeeze every memorable holiday tune into one, ambitious medley.
Peppered in among the holiday narratives are contemporary gags that range from ribbings about the Equifax hack to a slightly more dated joke about Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift during the MTV Music Awards. Some of these one-liners induce eye-rolls and groans, but it’s not an issue — there are genuinely hilarious moments aplenty in the nonstop flow of material.
The improv nature of key segments of the show adds to the sense of looseness and informality. During Wednesday’s opening night performance, one of the most successful jokes came from an audience member who, after a line from an actor about multi-million-dollar gingerbread houses, offered a zinger about the price of real estate in Boulder.
The festive scenic design by Tina Anderson, the properly patchwork and harried costume design by Brenda King, and the on-point sound design from Steven McDonald help keep the frantic feel of the show aloft, even in its most action-packed moments.
The result is a light-hearted treat for anyone with even a modicum of holiday spirit. The sheer amount of material here is bound to summon some kind of cherished holiday association for most any audience member.
Before venturing off-script from A Christmas Carol, one of the actors suggests that the all-encompassing approach to covering every holiday tale could become a “new tradition.” Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some!) has the comedic punch to become a viable annual rite for BETC, and this year’s production carries a significance and power that goes deeper than the pop culture gags.
The show is dedicated to Colorado actor Daniel Langhoff, whose stage credits spanned the entire metro area and who starred in last year’s staging of the show for BETC. Langhoff passed away in November after a long battle with cancer, and representatives from the local nonprofit the Denver Actors Fund were on hand on opening night to point out that 100 percent of the proceeds from the first performance would go toward Langhoff’s family. It was a message that summoned the purest form of holiday spirit, long before the talented trio of comedians made any riffs about Scrooge, the Grinch and Gustave the Green-Nosed Reingoat.