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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Santa Claus is Comin' to Motown
Yeah, I could quote lines that broke up the opening night audience at Comin' to Motown, but since the Troubies improvise like nobody's business, I can't be certain those same gags will be in the performance you see. I could recount which Motown songs director Matt Walker and company have lifted and messed with for insertion into the plot of the 1970 animated TV movie, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.. Generally speaking, however, it's more fun if the arrival of said tunes takes you by surprise. I'm not even sure that my saying "Go at all costs!" or something equally critically slobbering would do any good since the company typically sells out the entire run of its engagement at the sub-150 seat Falcon Theatre before the reviews even come in. The 2015 production is a revival of the show first produced at the Falcon in 2004.
Heck with it. Get thee to Motown. Eschew all future gift-buying and instead pay an exorbitant cost to seamy-looking individuals pedaling tickets under grimy raincoats. Beat ticket-bearing strangers into submission with mistletoe branches and pluck the tickets from their unconscious fingers before they revive. Do whatever you have to, but get a seat and be in it by the time the show starts unless you want to be the subject of a tardiness serenade.
Consistent with the best of the company's hybrids of well-told tales mixed with pop music, Comin' to Motown is a high-octane romp, an opportunity for company veterans and a few newbies to get their comedy freak on. No book writer is ever credited, but the company is pretty faithful about telling the entire tale they are lampooning. In this case, it's the Romeo Muller-written teleplay detailing how the orphan Kris Kringle defies a draconian edict by bringing toys to the children of Sombertown. In so doing, the red suit-wearing Kris (played by Matt Walker), befriends a penguin, enchants a comely schoolteacher, feeds enchanted corn to reindeer and paves the way for his future career as Jolly Old Saint Nick.
A fellow like Kris braves Burgermeister Meisterburger and the frosty Winter Warlock to get those toys delivered. Truly, there ain't no mountain high enough to keep Kris from his mission. A guy like that deserves a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
The Troubies, who try to keep things family-friendly for their holiday offerings, nonetheless can't resist boogieing down that rather fine line between wholesome and bad taste. Targets evolve. In 2004's Comin' to Motown, nobody could make a joke like, "Don't worry, kid, I'm not a pitchman for Subway." As long as you don't mind a questioning look from your young one when people are laughing over the Special Delivery Kluger (Rick Batalla) sporting the nickname STD, by all means bring the kids. Much of the humor is equally salty.
A Troubie show inevitably guarantees everyone in the ensemble a choice comic bit or two. Batalla's grumpy STD flings mail into the front row and endlessly hawks unsold CDs from C.H.I.P.S: The Musical. Leach Sprecher is boozily zonked as the backup singer Trixie. Pretty much every individual who takes the stage will be robot-walking, dressing up in an animal costume and shimmying through one of choreographer Suzanne Jolie Narbonne's energetic dance numbers. In addition to directing, Walker slips easily into the role of Kris with a gibberish-spouting Narbonne as the penguin Topper.
The Troubies are celebrating the company's 20th year of performing, and Comin' to Motown is another benchmark. It was in this very show that Beth Kennedy debuted the stilt-walking, icicle-fingered Winter Warlock, a character who is now a local holiday icon. With her torch singer-y voice, daffy humor and those crazy 15-inch fingers with which she tries to make sense of a Slinky, Winter has been effortlessly stealing scenes for the last decade.
Forget Kris Kringle. A holiday without the Winter Warlock is like a tree without the presents.
Santa Claus is Comin' to Motown
By the Troubadour Theater Company
Directed by Matt Walker
Cast: Rick Batalla, Joey Keane, Beth Kennedy, Andy Lopez, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Darrin Revitz, Leach Sprecher, Mike Sulprizio, Lisa Valenzuela, Matt Walker
Musical Director: Eric Heinly
Costume Design: Sharon McGunigle
Sound Design: Robert Arturo Ramirez
Prop Design: Corey Womack
Original Choreography by Nadine Ellis, restaged by Suzanne Jolie Narbonne
Lighting Design: Jeremy Pivnick
Scenic Design: Christopher Scott Murillo
Stage Manager: Claire Mazzeo
Plays through January 17, 2016 at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank. (818) 955-8101, www.FalconTheatre.com
Running time: One hour and 45 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson