Thursday, December 21, 2023

"All I Want for Christmas is You... to Elf Off!" by Brave New Workshop at the Dudley Riggs Theatre

Brave New Workshop's holiday* comedy sketch show is a favorite. And not just of mine; there were tons of groups, families, and people decked out in their best (or worst) holiday sweaters in the audience last night. The cast began the show by saying that this is the 65th holiday show (give or take) for one of the longest running comedy troupes in the nation. But despite the joke of that first sketch that every idea (even the most absurd) has been done before, they still managed to come up with some new, fresh sketches, along with some tried and true favorites. As you may guess from the title, All I Want for Christmas is You... to Elf Off, the show is an irreverent look at holidays and traditions, poking loving fun at the sometimes ridiculousness of this time of the year. But it stays true to the real meaning of the season - togetherness, community, and laughter. The show plays through January 27 so you have plenty of time to go celebrate with some holiday humor, by yourself or with a group of your favorite people (but I would not recommend bringing the children - spring for a babysitter or leave them with the grandparents, whom you also may not want to bring, depending on their sense of humor).

The cast includes some BNW holiday show veterans (Denzel Belin, Doug Neithercott, Artistic Director Caleb McEwen filling in for Lauren Anderson the night I saw the show, and accompanist Jon Pumper - he talks too!) as well as a few newbies to the BNW holiday scene - Isabella Dunsieth and Erin Kennedy. All of the performers are so funny in this mostly scripted show, not afraid to go there in the most silly moments. They work and play together well, and the audience just lives for the moments in which they crack each other up (which doesn't happen too often - these are professionals!).

Denzel Belin, Dough Neithercott, Lauren Anderson,
Erin Kennedy, Jon Pumper, and Isabella Dunseith
(photo courtesy of BNW)
I don't want to spoil the show for you, but expect a recurring gag about a subscription to something
called "Only Hams" (whatever you're thinking is right), what happens when songs like "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" come true, a hilarious spoof of a cheesy Hallmark movie, and the effect that Josh Groban's holiday music has on... apparently everyone. And of course, it's not a BNW holiday show without their take on "The 12 Days of Christmas," but instead of "my true love gave to me" it's "someone (stepdad, parents, teacher, swiftie) said to me." With each round the responses change a little, getting more and more extreme, and hilarious. 

BNW uses video in their shows to great effect, but not overused or overly relied upon; the main action is still live. The video intros to sketches, or videos as backdrops or illustrations for what's being discussed (e.g., lots of images of Josh Groban) make the show feel more modern and attuned to the way people take in comedy today (light, sound, image, and video design by Matthew Vichlach).

The one unscripted sketch is improvised holiday songs based on a title supplied by an audience member. The gems suggested by my audience were something about Santa's rectum, "Those Angels Got High," and "Son of a Nutcracker," all of which caused Caleb to roll his eyes and make other expressions of displeasure. But the cast (with Jon providing the music) improvised some gloriously horrible songs.

I left the show with my face literally hurting from smiling and laughing (and sometimes cringing) for two hours. If you've seen BNW before you know what a joy they are. And for those of you who haven't - if you like Saturday Night Live, you'll love Brave New Workshop, and no better place to start than with their beloved holiday show. It's a much needed palate cleanser for the often syrupy sweet holiday fare.

Click here for info, dates, and tickets through January 27, with discounts available for groups of 8 or more.

*Read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year here, and listen to the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers holiday preview episode of our podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat here