Stages Repertory Theatre: "Hold my beer."
Okay, so that’s not exactly what went down, but why let the facts get in the way of a good story? For real, Stages has upped the holiday antics ante by presenting three different shows in a six-week time frame, two of them using the same theater: The Ultimate Christmas Story (Abridged), Panto Star Force, and Who’s Holiday.
What led to this chaotic, possibly masochistic choice? Stages Associate Artistic Director Josh Morrison laughs at that description.
“We do have the word repertory in our name,” he explains. “And in years past, when we did a full season along with five or six children’s shows, we were always swapping out shows. And it struck us this season that we could get back to our roots with these. Panto Star Force is our family show, Who’s Holiday is a kind of adults-only, irreverent piece, and The Ultimate Christmas Show sort of straddles the place between them, with a really warm-hearted story told in a sometimes-irreverent way.”
What Stages is betting on is not only that there’s something for everyone in the offerings, but that people might come in to see one show and be intrigued enough by another to come back. Either way, it’s making for a busy holiday season over on Allen Parkway and Rosine Street.
The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged) opened November 7 and runs through December 23. It’s the story of the annual community Christmas pageant held at St. Everybody’s Non-Denominational Universalist Church, upended when a storm prevents any of the acts from showing up, forcing the three church staff to improvise. That show shares space with Who’s Holiday, running December 5-30, a one-woman romp that tells the story of the now-40-year-old Cindy Lou Who who's divorced, living in a trailer park, and awaiting guests for a Christmas party. While she’s waiting on them to turn up, she tells the story of how she went from the little girl who made The Grinch’s heart grow three sizes that day to, well, this. Oh, and it’s all done in Seussical rhyming couplets.
Finally, there’s Panto Star Force, a wild send-up of the Star Wars story, complete with audience responses, wild costumes, and overall insanity. “The thing about a parody is you want everyone to know what’s being parodied,” Morrison says, “and with Star Wars, we really have that.”
In addition to the natural comedy that parody brings, Morrison says the British panto tradition means that audiences get to play along in the story. They’ll be encouraged to root for the good guys, boo at the bad guys—even say a few lines of their own. It’s also a perfect shows for parents and children to enjoy together, given Star Wars’ multi-generational appeal.
Fair warning: the other two shows dip heavily into the irreverent. Ultimate Christmas Show mocks—sometimes gently, sometimes not—the traditional Christmas story, the carols many of us know and love, popular culture, holiday traditions that aren’t Christian, and our own gift wishes. Who’s Holiday, with its references to drugs, sex, and the rigors of life, isn’t a kids’ show. Both, however, are funny, says Morrison.
Beyond that, all three shows are about something he thinks resonates with people during the holiday season: connecting with each other.
“These shows are about re-discovery,” he says. “And that’s what the holidays are about, too. This is such a great time of year to strip away some of the cynicism we see in daily life, and it’s followed by the new year, which is a re-set. These three shows are distinctly different ways to feel fully energized and help get you in a good mood this season.”