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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Anything You Hear and Only Half of What You See, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and An Act of God

Chelsea Soto, Vinny Chavez, Katie McFadzen,
Rudy Ramirez, Jon Gentry, and Rhetta Mykeal

Photo by Tim Trumbule
Two seasons ago Childsplay presented a new musical, The Three Javelinas, based on two children's books by Tucson author Susan Lowell. They now present a sequel to that show, the holiday themed A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday based on Lowell's "A Very Hairy Christmas." It's a fun, upbeat musical with a talented cast that focuses on the importance of family and family traditions at the holidays.

The plot follows the three little javelina siblings, Josefina, Juan and José, and their cricket friend Caruso who are getting their house ready for the holidays. When their cousin Angelina makes a surprise visit it threatens to upset everything, as she is determined to interject herself into their holiday traditions. What makes matters worse is when a disguised coyote befriends Angelina and insists on helping her find her place within the family, as this also gets the coyote much closer to making a meal out of the little javelinas.

While the previous musical did a good job of introducing the characters, which Lowell superbly modeled on the fairy tale of the three little pigs and the wolf who hunts them, this new piece jumps right into the story. That might be confusing to audience members who aren't familiar with the three siblings, but the score by Todd Hulet and Jenny Millinger is more than capable of moving the plot along and giving us information on the characters, which is very impressive considering it is a mostly through song score with very little dialogue. While there probably won't be any tunes you find yourself humming on the way home there are definitely a few that resonate. It's also interesting and humorous how several familiar Christmas carols are interwoven into the songs.

The cast is quite talented, both vocally and comedically. Chelsea Soto, Rudy Ramirez and Vinny Chavez are Josefina, Juan and José and each makes their role unique. Soto brings a sunny disposition to the upbeat girl who loves to dance, Ramirez is appropriately controlling as the brother who is set in his ways, and Chavez is the dreamer of the group who has high hopes for a snowstorm even though he lives in the Arizona desert. Jon Gentry and Katie McFadzen provide a sweet charm to their characters despite McFadzen's coyote's plans to make a Christmas feast of the little javelinas. Rhetta Mykeal is superb as cousin Angelina. Her lovely voice brings much passion to both her songs and her character's desire to fit in with this family.

As he did on the previous musical, director Dwayne Hartford brings clarity to the energetic story. Molly Lajoie provides some fun choreography, especially in the act one ending that is a crazy and out of control version of "The Nutcracker." Holly Windingstad's set design, Tim Monson's lighting, and D. Daniel Hollingshead's costumes perfectly combine the colors and imagery of the southwest with the traditional greens and reds of Christmas.

While it may not exactly be a holiday classic, A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday is a fun and upbeat wintertime diversion. The combination of the show's message of the importance of family with a talented cast and the mature score makes this a family friendly musical that children of all ages will enjoy.

A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday at Childsplay runs through December 24th, 2016, Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe, with performances on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets are on sale at or at the Tempe Center for the Arts Box Office 480-350-2822 (ext. 0).

Book and Lyrics by Jenny Millinger
Music by Todd Hulet
Based on Susan Lowell's "A Very Hairy Christmas" Directed by Dwayne Hartford
Choreography: Molly Lajoie
Music Director: Todd Hulet
Scenic Design: Holly Windingstad
Costume Design: D. Daniel Hollingshead
Wig Design: Kate Mammana
Lighting Design: Paul Black
Sound Design: Christopher Neumeyer

Josefina: Chelsea Soto
Juan: Rudy Ramirez
José: Vinny Chavez
Angelina: Rhetta Mykeal
Caruso: Jon Gentry
Coyote: Katie McFadzen