Review: Untraditional tradition delivers again

By John Lyle Belden

Gayle Steigerwald – a very familiar face to Phoenix Theatre patrons – admits during “A Very Phoenix Xmas X: Oh Come Let Us Adore Us” that what is mainly a lampoon of holiday traditions has become an Indianapolis holiday tradition itself.

Steigerwald, a veteran of numerous “Phoenix Xmas” skits, acts as emcee for this year’s show, with its mixture of old and new elements in its songs and short plays, garnished with projected photos from past productions while Steigerwald banters as the cast change costumes. The other players – Scot Greenwell, Paul Hansen, Olivia Huntley, Rob Johanson, Eric J. Olson, Sara Rieman and Lincoln Sientz with musician Deb Mullins – are also familiar faces, and eagerly deliver like the pros they are.

The sock monkeys and lighted dancers return, and we get unusual takes on Christmas carols, the tree, gifting, and even the jolly character at the center of the celebration. There’s an avant garde piece, a bit of political commentary, and moments that reach more for the heart than the funny bone. Nothing is too sacred for this bunch, but there is no big sacrilege either. So, feel free to indulge in this alternate “tradition,” playing through Dec. 20 at the Phoenix, 749 Park Ave. (corner of Park and St. Clair downtown); see www.phoenixtheatre.org or call 317-635-7529.

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Review: Locally-sourced ‘Toyland’

By John Lyle Belden

The Footlite Musicals production of “Babes in Toyland” is both old and fresh, as the classic songs by Victor Herbert a century ago are set in a new book by the show’s director Bob Harbin (of Bibdirex fame) and comic megatalent Claire Wilcher (who, unfortunately, isn’t in the show). Harbin notes in the program that the original script is public domain, allowing him to put his and Claire’s own spin on the play.

The first act is practically a play in itself, set mostly in Mother Gooseland. Jack and Jill (Thomas Whitcomb and Breanna Jaffe) have taken a tumble, and Bo Peep (Samantha Shelton) has lost her sheep, but the biggest drama is that Mary Contrary (Claire Cassidy) wants to marry Tom Piper (Jonathan Krouse), but wicked landlord Barnaby (Jeff Fuller) demands to wed her instead. Neither Mary’s mother (Susan Smith) nor Mother Goose herself (Miki Mathioudakis) like the deal, but what hope is there for a happy ending – especially when Tom disappears? Fortunately some Gypsies (“We are Gypsies!” is a running gag) come in to help save the day.

Barnaby suffers a setback, but is not finished. The plot takes our characters in the second act to Toyland, home of a toymaker (Dan Flahive) who has given up on his craft. Time to work up another dramatic showdown towards a happy ending.

This show is very much geared towards the children and kids-at-heart, tykes who don’t mind if the beak of Mother Goose’s Gander (voiced by Curtis Peters) gets a little out of synch or if some of the joke lines fall flat. Another giggle-worthy moment or song-and-dance spectacle from this large all-ages cast is coming right up. Kudos to Fuller for playing his “boo-hiss” villain for all it’s worth. And best scene-stealer goes to Keilyn Bryant as Little BB (as in “Boy Blue”). Harbin does a great job wrangling all of the various elements that go into this show, providing an experience that feels like a holiday tradition, yet is a good alternative to the other traditional holiday shows around town you saw last year (and the year before, and the year before…).

“Toyland,” at the Hedback Theater, 1847 N. Alabama St. in downtown Indy, closes on Dec. 13, so get your reservation now at 317-923-6630 or www.footlite.org.

Back to the routine

Now that IndyFringe is done and September is here, we’ll resume the weekly look-aheads.

This weekend we have just one stage opening: the two-weekend run of “The Prince and the Pauper” by Center Stage Productions at Southport Presbyterian Church.

There is also an encore performance of an IndyFringe favorite, “Jason Adams is a God Damn Mind Reader,” 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the IndyFringe Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair St. in downtown Indy, by the intersection of Mass Ave., St. Clair and College Ave. If you didn’t see one of the sold-out Fringe performances, and are not offended at the show’s title, then by all means go see this wild mix of comedy and mental magic.

This weekend is also Labor Day, and you can wear your white shoes one more time to Indy LaborFest Saturday in the heart of Downtown Indianapolis for free, all-ages fun.

However you do it, enjoy your weekend!