Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Jesus & Johnny Appleweed's Holy Rollin' Family Christmas
New Line Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent review of Q Brothers Christmas Carol

Kay Love and Terrell Thompson
Photo by Jill Ritter Photography
Christmas gets a wacky, if pungent, new look in Jesus & Johnny Appleweed's Holy Rollin' Family Christmas, a musical comedy having its world premiere at the Grandel Theatre in St. Louis. New Line Theatre producer and co-director Scott Miller wrote the very pro-marijuana show, with musical orchestrations by John Gerdes. And it features an impressive range of Mr. Miller's original songs, many of which fall into a ravishing "cool jazz" style. Jesus & Johnny Appleweed's ... is a story that manages to feel revolutionary, with some arch, comical family conflict. But it also gets us surprisingly high on the Christmas spirit, without a trace of second-hand smoke.

Tony L. Marr Jr. co-directs and choreographs, and despite some acting unevenness (the male performers on stage sometimes lose their showbiz swagger), the popular musical actress Kay Love is matriarch Bess Goodson, along with Marlee Wenski as her on-stage daughter Tammy. Bess is a Donna Reed/Barbara Billingsley type mom in the 1950s TV show family presented on stage in act one. Ms. Love handles the play's satirical tone, and each of her solos, with great finesse. In act two she reveals an unexpected flair for stoner comedy as the wise, pot smoking alien Johnny Appleweed.

Act one gives us a fresh absurdist approach to the family-friendly TV sitcoms of the 1950s. Absurdist, partly because it's the very last Christmas of the "Happy Days" decade, and the 1960s are already banging on the door of the show's ranch-style house interior, lovingly designed by Rob Lippert. Act two, borrowing from A Christmas Carol, seems a lot stronger, both musically and theatrically. The finale peals with holiday glory.

Ms. Wenski, as Tammy (in a multi-racial family, in extreme denial of its complexions), unleashes bluesy power in "Miles and Miles," a song about her interracial love affair. And later she opens one of the show's many doors of originality with a dream sequence, singing a Hollywood scandal song, "Don't Look At Me! I'm Sandra Dee!." Tawaine Noah, in one of his two roles onstage, does very well with a psychoanalytical song, "You Act Like Dad."

Perhaps because it's a world premiere, the men on stage sometimes appear to be mildly unsure of the comedy, and tentative with Mr. Miller's complex be-bop rhythms. But when everyone speaks with conviction, and when the power of the singing matches the subtle '50s jazziness of the music, the show floats giddily along.

>"That Stick Up Your Ass" is great fun, late in act two, as the conservative dad (the charming Terrell Thompson) gets swept up in a sotto voce soft-shoe type number with the rest of the cast. And Tony L. Marr Jr. (the assistant director and choreographer) stepped in at the last minute as teenage son Chip and is delightful, facing up to the challenge. An additional four-person chorus is excellent handling the jazzy score, and they appear to be on the right track in developing eccentric background characters to heighten the mood. Lauren Smith Beardon supplies the first-rate costumes.

Mallory Golden leads a flawless band, although when New Line brings the show back next December (as I hope they will), maybe they could have an entr'acte as everyone settles back in from intermission, to avoid a long, awkward silence. Or maybe that suspenseful stillness heightens the marijuana-like paranoia of the moment.

It's funny that you can take this much-less traveled road to guaranteed Christmas cheer, and get there all the same. The original music is very impressive, blending with sometimes pointed satire for a snarky (and oddly charming) holiday event.

Jesus & Johnny Appleweed's Holy Rollin' Family Christmas runs through December 16, 2023, at New Line Theatre, Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information please visit

Harry Goodson: Terrell Thompson
Bess Goodson: Kay Love
Tammy Goodson: Marlee Wenski
Chip Goodson: Tony L. Marr Jr.<
Uncle Hugh: Tawaine Noah
Carolers: Robert Doyle, Matt Hill, Stephanie Merritt, Lauren Tenenbaum

Production Staff:
Directors: Scott Miller, Tony L. Marr Jr.
Choreographer: Tony L. Marr Jr.
Music Director: Mallory Golden
Stage Manager: Emily Floyd
Technical Director: Matt Stuckel
Costume Designer: Lauren Smith Bearden
Sound Designer: Ryan Day
Scenic Designer: Dr. Rob Lippert
Furniture Courtesy of J. Horton Prop House
Lighting Designer: Matt Stuckel
Props Master: Erin Goodenough
Master Electrician: Stephanie Robinson
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy