Friday, December 15, 2023

"Every Christmas Story Ever Told" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Yellow Tree Theatre has a long tradition of doing silly holiday* comedies, beginning with their first season. When the rights to the show they were planning to do were pulled, co-founder Jessica Lind Peterson wrote a play about a theater whose rights to the show they were planning to do were pulled. Miracle on Christmas Lake was born, spawning a sequel and other holiday comedies in the silly but heart-warming vein. Now in their 16th season and under new leadership, the tradition continues with Every Christmas Story Ever Told, a madcap ride through, if not every, then most Christmas stories ever told. It's a clever conceit and a super fun mash-up for those of us who grew up with these stories. In the hands of three talented and very funny performers, it's an enjoyable evening for all. If you don't have time to see every Christmas show, head up to charming downtown Osseo before the end of the year to see all of them at once.

Three performers are set to perform A Christmas Carol (my fourth time seeing it this year, BTW) when they decide to mix it up a little and tell all of the stories. First, they gather suggestions from the audience, then they launch into beloved stories like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, A Child's Christmas with Whales (wait, is that right?), The Nutcracker, The Gift of the Magi, and many more. In fact, there are so many pop culture references (not all of them Christmas) that I'm sure I didn't catch them all. In between the little mini skits of each story, the performers also tell us some fun facts about Christmas and other holidays celebrated around the world, which includes some pretty weird (and sometimes dark) traditions. But they save the best part for last - a brilliant, and brilliantly funny, mash-up of A Christmas Carol with It's a Wonderful Life. that lets you see the parallels between these two BHCs (Beloved Holiday Classics).

Charles Fraser, Madeleine Rowe, and Elise Langer
in the silliest Nutcracker you've ever seen (photo by Tom Wallace)
Director Jason Ballweber and performers Elise Langer, Charles Fraser, and Madeleine Rowe bring out all of the funny in this script, and then some. It's hard to tell if any of it was improvised based on audience suggestions, or if the show just includes so many familiar references that someone was bound to mention some of them. Regardless, this trio is very loose and playful, and their performances sometimes feel improvised and off-the-cuff, in the best way. They use their real names as character names, so it's hard to tell where the actor ends and the character begins. They all gamely throw themselves into the storytelling and aren't afraid to look the fool, which endears them to us even more. Elise has a running gag of wanting to get back to playing Scrooge (I lost track of how many times she said "Marley was dead, to begin with"), Charles leads a Christmas game show in a holiday sweater suit and lollipop microphone, and Madeleine steals scenes with her many different voices and characters.

Elise Langer, Madeleine Rowe, and Charles Fraser
(photo by Tom Wallace)
The simple set allows for all of the crazy to explode against it - just a plain black wall with a door and a window that pop out, the only big set piece Scrooge's bed for the second act. The fun costumes include Victorian era Christmas Carol pieces that get expanded with colorful pieces for the other stories, including the recycling of a Christmas tree costume from previous Yellow Tree shows. Lighting changes are called for by the cast and help differentiated the stories, and the pre-show and intermission soundtrack of iconic Christmas songs, from Mariah Carey to the Chipmunks is the perfect accompaniment.

I've been partaking in the popular and beloved tradition of Christmas comedy at Yellow Tree Theatre for some 14 years (give or take a pandemic) with a group of coworkers and friends, and it's always a highlight of the year that gets us in the Christmas spirit (even if there's no snow). Every Christmas Story Ever Told is a unique and fun continuation of this tradition - see it now through December 31.

*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