Anyone wishing to see all facets of the holiday season will enjoy this year's edition of A Show Palace Christmas — The Frosty Follies. It has a sweet, original holiday story, traditional yuletide carols, several songs composed by the Show Palace's new musical director, Michael Ursua, that sound fresh, yet familiar, good laughs, many tender moments, some romance, Angela D. Hoerner's gorgeous costumes, Tom Hansen's excellent lighting and sets, and a couple of cute kids to remind everyone of the importance of the Christmas spirit.
And that's what The Frosty Follies is all about — the importance of continuing the Christmas spirit.
In Show Palace artistic director Matthew McGee's script, making its debut in this production, the reign of the current Santa Claus (Phillip Wayne Butts as every Santa should be — tall, dignified, genuine) is coming to its 200-year end, and according to his contract with the Almighty, he must find his replacement before midnight on Christmas Eve or the holiday spirit will expire. Santa thinks he's spotted just the right man, an ill-tempered and thoughtless cable television show director named Arnie (Yurief Rodriguez). Thanks to a chance meeting with the young Arnie (an adorable Matthew Romeo) 30 years earlier, the all-wise Santa knows that Arnie's bad disposition isn't the "real" Arnie. Santa's job is to help Arnie recall why he's so bitter and then convince him that becoming the next Santa is his destiny.
It isn't an easy job.
And it's complicated by a couple of nasty Santa's helpers, Grommet and Swatch (Rachel Brinker, Stefani Wells), who are jealous of Mrs. Santa (a lovable Susan Haldeman) and her sidekick Patch (a perky 10-year-old P.J. DiGaetano) and want to undo the whole Christmas celebration.
That's the story, but the musical fun comes as Arnie the director puts together the cable TV annual holiday show, complete with zany auditions for a Santa, when there's a Bad Santa (James Kidd), a Flamboyant Santa (Zack Fowler), an annoying Mime Santa (Todd S. Mummert), an Elvis Santa (Olin Davidson) and even a Stripper Santa (Andi Sperduti). And of course, the real deal, Santa Claus himself.
The TV show has numbers by cross-dressing, dancing Red Hat Ladies (don't know why men dressed up as women are always so funny, but they are) singing Jingle Bell Rock, a New York City tableau, a scene in St. Patrick's Cathedral where Mrs. Claus (Haldeman) sings a heart-stopping Ave Maria, the ensemble's jazzy version of Jingle Bells and the husky-voiced Sara Del Beato singing a beautifully bluesy Don't Fly Away.
McGee's script weaves in romances between the money-grubbing TV show producer Mr. Hollythorn (Eric Jon Mahlum), whose voice does justice to one of the show's best numbers, Just in Time, and his secretary, Miss Crabapple (an always-delightful Erin Romero); Arnie and his unappreciated assistant Allie (Pamela McKenna); and, of course, the original lovebirds Santa and Mrs. Claus. The women sing a cleverly cynical song, Fallin' Out of Love, but, in truth, they're all pushovers for romance.
The two-hour, 30-minute show seems to wander around a bit, perhaps because it includes so many themes and substories, but it's all tied up in the end, and the detours are worth it, especially when you get to hear Ursua sing Merrie Christmas to You as he leads his stellar three-piece, on-stage combo in accompaniment to the show.
Incidentally, a list of the songs in the program would be nice, so we could know which songs are Ursua originals and who is singing what. Perhaps an insert at future performances?