Wednesday I attended the opening of THE EARLY ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS – A YULETIDE BURLESQUE at Walking Fish Theatre, produced by B. Someday Productions, based on the book by Frank L Baum. This Christmas tale, set in a fictitious land of fairies, nymphs and woodsmen explores a very different take on the tale of Jolly Old St. Nick. Complete with partially nude nymphs, guns, strobe lights and a cigarette smoking Santa, the final show for B Someday in 2012 sure puts the O! in Ho Ho Ho.
The story explores the origins of a young Santa Claus, and his upbringing in a mythical fantasy land where he meets some unusual characters. His young life is transformed by his au pair (the competent Mauri Walton), and the rest of his “family” when they decide to make Santa immortal.
Matt Shell as the young “Claus” stood out among the cast, and not just because we see Santa smoking. His comic timing and strong presence make him a natural as a leading man. Michelle Pauls was a little naughty and a little nice as Queen Zurline. I would have liked to have seen her more, especially in her amazing costume, compliments of designer Anna Frangiosa. Dennis Smeltzer gave an affable portrayal of AK the woodsman. The three nymphs, Mauri Walton, Lauren Willams and Melissa Forgione added both beauty and bizarreness to the stage picture director Stan Heleva painted for his audience, which I believe is what he was going for.
By the title I knew I was in for risqué, perhaps even offensive, and I was prepared for that. By its definition, burlesque is a parody, mocking or spoof. Contemporary audiences know burlesque to usually mean comedy combined with tasteful but exotic dance. British and American early burlesque encompassed music, dance, comedy, and understated sex. So, I expected to see a spoof on the traditional Christmas story of Santa Claus, complete with half-naked elves, perhaps an overly sexual Mrs. Claus, but this show isn’t really a spoof, but rather an original story, which was lacking in plot and character development. There’s not a lot that’s understated in this YULETIDE BURLESQUE, except the dancing girls wore pasties. However I can’t really describe their dancing as burlesque. Williams’ and Forgione’s dance was impressive, but somewhat lewd, not alluring. Not a lot left to the imagination, I saw too much, and wished for more burlesque dance instead of modern day stripper. Both dancers are clearly trained and talented, I’d have liked to seen more dance and less straddling. Overall the production needed depth, perhaps some heart, because we really didn’t love any of the characters, and the comedy was lacking. However, the playbill contains a full page disclaimer and “apology” by jovial director Heleva, so in all fairness, we were warned!
Since 2007, B Someday Productions at Walking Fish has proven to be a theatrical force to be reckoned with in the Philadelphia arts scene, as the full house on opening night would attest. Forging full speed ahead in 2013, I’m anxious to see what this up and coming company does next.
THE EARLY ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS – A YULETIDE BURLESQUE
Directed by Stan Heleva
December 19 – 31, 2012
B. Someday Productions
at Walking Fish Theatre
2509 Frankford Avenue