Forbidden Xmas at Tacoma Actors Guild
Forbidden Xmas, Richard Gray's holiday cabaret that skewers all things holiday, began a decade ago as an AIDS fundraiser and blossomed into a veritable cottage industry. For several years it has had productions simultaneously at Seattle's Crepe De Paris dinner theatre, at Tacoma Actors Guild, and in a run out version booked at corporate holiday parties. This year's TAG edition boasts a fine cast, handsome if a bit overstated production values, and a mix of old and new Gray parodies and originals. Having never seen this more elaborate version I was intrigued to see how it played, and I have to admit less is more.
Forbidden Xmas rises or falls more on the merits of its performers and material than on Carey Wong's handsome set design, Scott O'Donnell's attractive lighting design, or Doris Landolt Black's pretty and plentiful costumes. Gray has come up with a few new numbers and running gag bits that score, but also several that fall a bit flat, in his attempt to tailor material more to Tacoma sensibilities. Best of the new are "Galloping Gertie," a country-flavored dilly of an ensemble number about the wintertime demise, some years back, of the old Tacoma Narrows bridge; "Kent" which uses Rent's score music to spoof the woes of Boeing, and recurring numbers mocking the folly that is Paul Allen's expensive Experience Music Project at Seattle Center. However, a "Zoolights" number (an annual Yuletide event at Tacoma's Pt. Defiance Zoo) is bland, the "Glass" number (about Dale Chihuly and Tacoma's new museum of glass) is wobbly, and a number about a local Olympic celebrity named "Apolo" and his publicity mad hairstylist Dad is just plain unfunny.
Luckily, the game and gifted cast rise above the weaker material and shine on the strongest. Leslie Law and Joshua M. Bott blend their fine voices to grand effect on Gray's ever-touching "In Her/His Eyes" which celebrates a child's view of holiday magic, and Law makes a very funny Shirley MacLaine in another number. Carolyn Magoon socks the jazzy "Bon Star Blues" across the footlights, and John Patrick Lowrie does a smashing lead vocal and guitar accompaniment on the aforementioned "Gertie" number, which also features a kick of a drag turn by the show's irreplaceable musical director/pianist Mark Rabe, who also charms with his "Nordstrom Pianist" number. Gray's writing and the cast twinkle brightest in the ensemble numbers like "Steve Pool The Weatherman," "Dickens Carolers," "Starbucks Coffee Grinder Suite" and the always hilarious encore, "UPS Carol of the Bells." The show tends to go on too long in Tacoma, versus the tighter Seattle cabaret version, and muddy sound tended to obscure Gray's lyrics too often.
Forbidden Xmas is a holiday entertainment tradition that I would hate to see fade, but Gray should worry less about being Tacoma-centric in the future and just do what he does best, deck the halls with merry and malicious spoofery of the holidays and icons that all Northwesterners can relate to.
Forbidden Xmas at Tacoma Actors Guild, 915 Broadway, downtown Tacoma, through December 22. For reservations call (253) 272-2145.