‘Tamarie Christmas’ is reason to celebrate
Holidays! We look forward to them with unrealistic expectation, knock ourselves out trying to make each one "the best ever" – then inevitably, feel let down once they're over.
With "A Very Tamarie Christmas," Tamarie Cooper and her crazy crew of theater collaborators simultaneously celebrate and send up holiday madness, rituals and attitudes – starting with Christmas, then advancing to other holidays, both widely recognized and virtually unknown.
For the 17th summer, Cooper has conceived, directed and choreographed a zany original musical in which she also stars. Appropriately enough, "A Very Tamarie Christmas" has the feeling of a rowdy holiday party. It generates lots of laughs, fun and surprises, with good company and festive accoutrements – a little out of control at times, but never dull. And no hangover.
The show begins with Cooper leading the cast in the inevitable insanely upbeat opener, "It's Christmastime!" – listing the Yuletide clichés about which everyone is hyper-happy. No need to ask why – the combination of the list and the aggressive jubilation makes this funny in itself. After the opening number, as is often the case in her shows, Cooper finds her determination to have fun derailed by the other characters. They point out the insensitivity of celebrating Christmas – what about those of other faiths? Or none? Before long, the cast has been forced to revise the celebration into a dutifully drab and joyless "Secular Commemoration of an Unspecified Event" – aptly satirizing the pitfalls of political correctness.
Next, the union of lesser known holidays intrudes, demanding attention be paid to such occasions as Flag Day and Arbor Day. Christmas himself – humorously personified by Greg Dean as a Dean Martin-esque cool guy with a "let's party" attitude and a drink ever in hand – gets offended at the complaints and storms off. If he's not going to be appreciated, Cooper can find some other holiday to build her show around. And so, after dismissing the minor holidays, Cooper spends the rest of the show trying to find the perfect one. She tries 'em all: Easter to Halloween, Valentine's Day to Columbus Day, Earth Day to Thanksgiving – but always finds a complication, a downside, or the other characters make the event such an ordeal that she opts out.
While this is not the most original framing device Cooper has used for one of her shows, it's a serviceable one. And within that framework, the skits and songs, characters and comic bits remain pretty consistently funny. To give credit where due, Patrick Reynolds wrote the show's book, the songs have music either by Miriam Daly or Joe Folladori, and all the above, plus Cooper and Miki Johnson, contributed lyrics. (A note to more sensitive patrons: This edition is more unabashedly bawdy than the series' norm.)
Besides turning out material that's offbeat, outrageous and funny, the creative team has sharpened its knack for showcasing the daftly gifted comics who surround Cooper.
Kyle Sturdivant is inspired and hysterically funny, whether as a huffily sensitive tree representing Arbor Day, or a perverse turkey presiding over the strangest Thanksgiving dinner ever.
Noel Bowers exudes gruff comic energy as an obscenely rapping Easter Bunny, a belligerent patriot proclaiming his Fourth of July exceptionalism, and a grumpy, self-pitying Cupid who notes that a diaper-wearing, arrow-shooting weirdo has little hope of finding much love for himself.
John Dunn shines in several roles, particularly his cagily noncommittal Groundhog. Abraham Zeus Zapata scores as an absurdly overenthusiastic Flag Day.
In another highlight, Christian Holmes' drunk and disorderly St. Patrick's Day rails against the stereotypes of the Irish, then instantly confirms them.
Jessica Janes, Rachel Rubin and Karina Pal Montano-Bowers are very funny as a trio aggressively promoting Secretaries Day.
And Xzavien Hollins, all impishness as April Fool's Day, pulls off a nifty surprise.
At the center of it all, as the oft-challenged but indomitably merry mistress of the revels, Cooper clowns, hoofs and holds the whole goofy carnival together with sarcastic glee.
As always, the madly inventive costumes, designed by Cooper and Claire Anderson, constitute a hilarious show in themselves.
Each summer, Cooper must face the reality that her toughest competition is herself – her past shows. If "A Very Tamarie Christmas" is not the funniest ever, it's certainly funny enough and reason to celebrate, holiday or no.