For the first time in years, Waukesha Civic Theatre has shed its “Candy Cane Tales,” a holiday variety show, in favor of the quirky, but funny, holiday show “For Purely Elfish Reasons” by Jason Powell.
The mostly adult story contains the sort of puns and word plays made famous by the Marx Brothers that bombard the audience like snow in a blizzard. David Kaye directs the show.
There’s a reference to a line in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” theme song, a nod to “A Christmas Story” (“You’ll shoot your eye out”), the 1964 TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," a Bogart-like character and others, all swirling about the Marx Brothers-like planet.
There a few group numbers featuring a bunch of little brown-clad, grade-school-aged elves, but in between is a bit of a mystery. It seems that Santa must lay off elves, which means the toy output is dwindling. And that means an unhappy Christmas for many youngsters. But why?
Three elves, Jules (Phil Stepanski), Lonnie (Jim Donaldson) and Dolly (Kelsey Monnot), are selected to recruit new elves. The three are the equivalent of the Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx characters, respectively.
In the meantime, Hermey (Jordan Stewart) has been assigned to check the books for Santa to see if there is any malfeasance. Sure enough, it appears some elf may have been dipping into Santa’s till. But which one?
The show opens with all the elves singing about how happy they are to be employed in Santa’s workshop. But soon Jules points out the bad financial news. He tells Santa he was excited about the prospect of making of six-figure salary, only he didn’t know the “first five figures would be zeros.”
Jules, who constantly carries a candy cane, similar to the way Groucho held a cigar, gets Lonnie and Dolly to join him on the mission to solve the mystery of the missing cash.
There are numerous scenes with fun and funny exchanges that contain so many groaners you can barely catch your breath. One bit includes a clever array of Marx Brothers movie titles that come spilling out during a conversation.
In another scene, Jules is interviewing Hermey (the name of an elf/dentist wannabe undeniably associated with the 1964 "Rudolph" TV show), and they get into a discussion about the seriousness of gum disease. “Gums don’t kill people,” says Jules. “People kill people.”
When Lonnie tells Jules he’s a Pole, Jules asks, “North or South?” Lonnie later tells him he “doesn’t get into Pole-etics.”
Dolly, who doesn’t speak (she’s the Harpo equivalent), is forever bringing out props to communicate. When someone asks for a musical chord, she pulls a cord out of her ample pockets.
And, of course, you just knew somewhere in the show would be the phrase “Santa-ty Claus,” as is the case when Jules and Lonnie are talking about the contents of a contract.
There is plenty of surprisingly pleasant music throughout the show, each number delivered quite well. Donaldson’s Lonnie sings a charming tune about his love life – or lack thereof – and how he just wants to hear three little words for Christmas, and two of them are pronouns.
Two elves, Theodore (Yeng Thao) and Katherine Conn (Melissa Loth), pair up for a cute bit about getting married – he thinks romance is enough, she wants to wait until they’re more financially stable. Thao also adds some impressive gymnastics to his scenes.
Bryan Madson as the elf Augustus Eiderbroth delivers a richly textured tune in his deep base voice (with a Bogart-like demeanor and gangster-like looks) about being one-dimensional. And not in a good way – more like the Grinch. It’s a most intriguing way to open the second act.
Adding some nice vocals and movements to a number of scenes is the trio of Lauren Heinen, Emily Martinez and Emily Schmidt, who also have created a variety of vampish looks.
Armed with a sackful of one-liners is Stepanski, who, as Jules, fires them off with the precision of a sharpshooter. When he and Donaldson’s Lonnie get going, the wordplay is like an artillery attack.
I really enjoyed Donaldson’s Lonnie character, his joy-filled singing and interplay with the other characters. He’s definitely a scene stealer.
Monnot’s Dolly is fun to watch, too, with her expressive face and never ending supply of props, including a bicycle horn.
Jordyn Steward gives her Hermey character an appealing, no-nonsense bookish quality and really handles the fast-paced repartee nicely.
The kids all did well in their song and dance numbers, but the show focused on the grown-ups and the homage to the Marx Brothers.
If you go
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: “For Purely Elfish Reasons”
When: Through Dec. 18
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Tickets/Info: 262-547-0708, waukeshacivictheatre.org