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WCT's show finds humor in the holidays

This year's 'Candy Cane Tales' has a more adult look

Paul Burkard and Evelyn Barta portray a dad and his daughter in a cozy family scene from Waukesha Civic Theatre's "Candy Cane Tales and Holiday Carols."

Paul Burkard and Evelyn Barta portray a dad and his daughter in a cozy family scene from Waukesha Civic Theatre's "Candy Cane Tales and Holiday Carols."

Dec. 4, 2012

While Waukesha Civic Theatre's holiday show is called "Candy Cane Tales and Holiday Carols" as it has been for the past few years, this year's show has a brand new look.

The show, originally conceived and written by managing artistic director John Cramer, featured a mostly kid cast that sang and danced its way through various skits, stories and tunes, highlighting holiday heroes and villains.

This year's show includes additional material written by Jes Hancock and Jacob Sudbrink, who were also the show's directors and choreographer and music director, respectively.

The show hangs together beautifully, like a row of Christmas stockings on a mantel, with the introduction of a family preparing for the holiday on Christmas Eve in their cozy "home" tucked into a corner of the set. The fireplace, Christmas tree and easy chair, plus well-chosen pieces, make it easy for the stage family of Paul Burkard and Teri Downing as the mom and dad and Evelyn Barta as their daughter to look comfortable and relaxed.

The family's conversations provide natural segues into the various scenes and songs. For instance, the "Yes, Virginia" scene (featuring Mark Cage and Clarissa Kluster) follows a family discussion of the existence of Santa Claus.

This season's cast of 30, split between adults and kids, means less cute-factor but more mature performances.

Many of the original show's villains, such as The Grinch and Heat Miser, return, as do holiday heroes like Frosty and Santa.

Yet, there is a decidedly more adult feel to the show, without losing the joy and energy of past shows.

Holiday humor is a big part of this show - most evident in the closing segment of the first act called "Ho, Ho, Ho and a Ha, Ha, Ha!" which opens with a hilarious take on the well-known English carol, "The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen." A chorus of men sing of their fate after entering a ladies restroom because a prankster had switched the male and female symbols on the door.

In "The Twelve Pains of Christmas," all the annoying aspects of the holidays are sung out - from writing Christmas cards to hanging lights - with very funny results. The scene is perfect for ad-libbing and should only get funnier in subsequent shows.

Another crowd favorite is the "Christmas Around the World Medley," which includes some nice choreography and colorful costumes, although the vocals were sometimes a little uneven on opening night. The Rockin' Around Trio (KaitlynDowning, Grace McDonell and Alex Farrell) perform a snappy "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," with a USO backdrop and patriotic outfits giving them an Andrews Sisters look. Loved the dad and daughter cruising through the scenes in the background, mimicking the others' movements, as they headed "home."

This year's Grinch, was truly a "nasty, wasty" fellow as portrayed by Isaiah Reynolds, whose exaggerated mime really gives a lot of life to "You're a Mean One."

There's lots of very nice music, starting with Martin Graffinius's easy-on-the-ears renditions of "White Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," although it would have been better to see him moving around the stage, and maybe engaging with other cast members, rather than appearing solo.

The second half opens with a lovely "Carol of the Bells" and closes with an equally beautiful candlelight version of "Silent Night."

Burkard seems to be everywhere in the show and is always entertaining. He and Teri Downing executed a really smooth "Baby, It's Cold Outside" while, in contrast his dastardly Professor Hinkle is all bluster and bumbling.

The kids also have their solos (Lily Baranowski and Sarah Albers) in a cleverly done scene in which a line of children quickly speeds through to sit on Santa's lap with their wishes, which transitions to several tunes.

One segment that didn't quite work was the opening number, called "Can-can," an energetic tribute to Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanzaa that just seemed a jumble as it got going. The men's cancan line, however, would've done the Rockettes proud.

A.J. Simon's set is once again overflowing with holiday opulence with decorated trees, lighted screen in the back for scene visuals, a plump garland above and on the sides, in addition to the stage family's corner scene.

Some new sharp costumes also added to the festive look this year. Snow Miser (Cage) and his minions looked especially cool in silver and blue, while Jeff Barta's Heat Miser and his minions were really "hot" in their orange outfits.

If you go

Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre

What: "Candy Cane Tales and Holiday Carols"

When: Through Dec. 16

Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha

Tickets: (262) 547-0708

Info: www.waukeshacivictheatre.org

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