The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged), presented by Jefferson Performing Arts Society at Teatro Wego!, took a stab at holiday traditions from Salvation Army bell-ringers to The Nutcracker ballet, as Three Wise Guys turned "ho, ho, ho" into LOL. Written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, the holiday show poked silly fun at virtually every seasonal religious observance, including Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa and Christmas. The actors pulled out every shtick in the book and no rite was spared from their corny humor.
The premise is a multicultural, interfaith, holiday variety show gone terribly wrong as a snowstorm prevents novelty acts from crossing the Crescent City Connection and Huey P. Long bridges to perform at St. Everybody's Non-Denominational ("we'll believe anything") Universalist Church. To entertain the waiting audience, the three enthusiastic organizers (Kristopher Lloyd Shaw, Bob Murrell and Robert Facio) don costumes and put on the show themselves.
Shaw is the pagan emcee, Facio is the stiff traditionalist and Murrell the greedy consumerist. As the sole non-Christian, Shaw often misinterprets holiday references, for example, "gay apparel" and angels "tripping" on high, and misstates others ("round young virgins"). The Wise Guys start off the show vaguely disguised as The Snowmen from Des Moines, Iowa, rapping about the baby Jesus and then segue into singing more traditional fare as the Confederate Christian Carolers ("Christ was killed by the Jews") from Charleston, South Carolina.
The show was billed as irreverent, and some acts veered into subject matter some audience members might consider sacrilegious. The most outrageous and hilarious skit was a very pregnant Virgin Mary played by the bearded Facio. St. Joseph was ready to break off their engagement, but the angel Gabriel intervened, hoping to gain his wings. When the holy family couldn't find a room at an inn, Mary scolded: "I told you to make that reservation a month ago." Joseph defended himself, saying cellphones wouldn't be available for 2,000 years.
Much of the slapstick humor was derived from actors playing multiple parts, aided by costumes and wigs. A high point was a disco rendition of "We Three Kings" sung in the style of the Bee Gees. Claustrophobia occured because Santa constantly "sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake ..."
The script was updated with local and topical references, including election politics, and lyrics for the "Twelve Days of Christmas" offered lavish gifts, including Apple watches, Hamilton tickets, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and a house with a swimming pool. Audience participation elicited boos, hisses and applause as well as an old-fashioned holiday gift exchange.
Benny Grunch and the Bunch entertained during intermission with its holiday favorites, including "12 Yats of Christmas" and "O Little Town of Destrehan."
The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged) was the perfect antidote to shopping malls and holiday Muzak with its spare-no-prisoners approach to celebrating the season.