Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Butterfingers Angel
Uptown! Knauer Arts Center
Review by Rebecca Rendell

Also see Rebecca's reviews of Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Panto

The Cast
Photo by Johanna Austin
Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center in West Chester kicks off its new regional theatre program with Tony Award-winning playwright and novelist William Gibson's The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut, & the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree. Lots of local theatergoers are sure to enjoy this rarely produced retelling of the Christmas story and the Nativity. Director Domenick Scudera has put together an ensemble of top notch vocalists to sing energized arrangements of a dozen holiday favorites. There are some truly hilarious interactions and a handful of deeply inspiring moments as well. Unfortunately, the production has issues that make it more like an excellent amateur work rather than a professional regional staging.

The most serious issue is that the narrative feels confused and rushed for much of the first act. This is the greatest story ever told, from Mary's virgin pregnancy to the birth of Christ. But it might also be a story about people putting on a play about the Nativity. But it's not clear that is what is going on, because we never learn who they are or why they are doing it, and at some point the whole play within a play idea simply vanishes completely. The pace and storytelling is on track by act two, but my sense that the cast does not know exactly what type of play they are putting on (straightforward or self-aware? irreverent or inspiring? glib or serious?) is never resolved. The confusion isn't merely existential–more than once it seems like the cast does not know exactly where they are meant to enter or sit or stand. There are some excellent performances, but one serious casting blunder.

DJ Gleason is sweetly fumbling and earnestly struggling as the Angel. Jenna Kuerzi plays Mary with ample charm and a modern sensibility that makes the story feel surprisingly relevant. The funniest performance of the night comes from the elegant and increasingly frustrated Elise Hudson as the Tree. Despite their evident talent, none of these actors makes any connection with Neill Hartley, whose unfortunately stilted performance as the aging and agitated Joseph brings the show to a screeching halt. Hartley's labored and awkward dialogue is a low point of the play.

The best part of The Butterfingers Angel is having carols interspersed throughout the story. Great vocals and excellent energy abound during these numbers. It is easy to feel the spirit of the season while the cast is singing and strumming "We Three Kings," "O Come All Ye Faithful," and "Away in a Manger." It always adds something special when the actors are really playing their instruments on stage, and Shannon Zura's sound design fills the space beautifully.

The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut, & the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree runs from through December 23, 2022, at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center, Roy A. Smith Mainstage, 226 N. High Street, West Chester PA. For information and tickets, please visit

Jenna Kuerzi: Mary
Neill Hartley: Joseph
DJ Gleason: the Angel
Elise Hudson: the Tree
Eric Van Wie: Herod and the Man in Grey
Josh Kachnycz: Lout/King 1
James Ofalt: Lout/King 2
Paul Harrold: Donkey and others
Olivia Gendron: Herod's Woman, Girl Child, and others
Maggie O'Connor: Cow and others
Sharese Salters: Sheep and others

Domenick Scudera: Director
Dirk Durossette: Set Designer
Kelly Myers: Costume Designer
Jerry Forsyth Lighting Designer
Shannon Zura: Sound Designer