NEW YORK – In the mood for a delightful holiday treat that will make you laugh out loud, render you a little nostalgic for old Hollywood and even warm your heart? Then look to the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row Studios on 42nd Street and pop in to see Gracye Productions’ raucous 90 minute comedy / parody The Asphalt Christmas, written by and starring Todd Michael, which winningly and cleverly sends up such movie classics as The Bells Of St. Mary’s, White Christmas, The Bad Seed, Boys Town, The Exorcist and many more. Trust me, any show that features the head spinning bit from The Exorcist (one of the many visual treats in the production) is worth seeing. Mr. Michael, director Lawrence Lesher and perhaps the funniest ensemble of actors working in the New York theatre today deliver an evening of holiday fun that’s as perfect a Yuletide treat as candy canes and eggnog.
Set in 1950’s New York, Michael’s script follows Father Patrick Dennis O’Day (Chris Kateff), a former vaudevillian, turned cleric, as he begins his new tenure at St. Celestine’s Parish and Orphanage, where immediately he learns that his presence is most welcome and most needed, what with troublesome scamps like Mickey Loomis (Matthew Harris) and goody, goody Veda Munson (Meg Mark) causing shenanigans for iron willed Sister Mary Bernadette (David L. Zwiers) and the beleaguered Sister Mary Joseph (Courtney Cook) or Yosef, as this nun is more than a little all over the place, ethically speaking. All are currently preparing for the annual Christmas pageant and Veda will accept nothing less than the top spot in the pageant. With the help of the rather demented handyman / groundskeeper Willard (Alex Pappas), we learn that Veda isn’t so goody goody after all. It’s not her fault, she’s possessed by the one and only devil. Willard also uncovers that Veda’s mother, believed to be dead, is alive and kicking up her heels as a stripper, going by the name Dixie La Hiff (Mr. Michael). Fr. O’Day visits her to set up a reunion between mother and daughter. Dixie reveals that she’s engaged to be married to a cop, Eddie Knight (Timothy J. Cox) who turns out to be Fr. O’Day’s former vaudeville partner. When the reunion takes place between mother and daughter, the devil or de-vile, as pronounced by Fr. O’Day, inside Veda begins to wreak havoc on all who cross her path, especially Mickey. There is a happy ending of course. The devil is conquered by the power of Christmas and the show closes with the cast treating the audience to an amusing song, titled The First Syllable of Christmas, written by Mr. Michael and Joemca.
This is a production chock full of highly amusing gags, with bits and characterizations that may be familiar to fans of Mel Brooks, Bugs Bunny and the Carol Burnett Show. These include the aforementioned head spinning, multiple costume changes, cartoonish sound effects and birds on a stick. It’s just silly, silly, silly fun. It’s also a very well written comedy / parody and Mr. Michael, a veteran of numerous parodies for over a decade, deserves high praise for reinventing a lost art.
Director Lawrence Lesher and his incredible cast tackle Mr. Michael’s material head on with an energy, talent and commitment to the style of the period that is a sight to see. The entire cast is richly deserving of praise, led by Mr. Kateff, who drives the show as Fr. O’Day, presenting an earnest, everyman type, definitely in the Jack Lemmon mold, with a touch of the physical comic enthusiasm of Dick Van Dyke. Mr. Michael and Mr. Zwiers soar in their glorious, over the top turns as Dixie and Sr. Mary Bernadette, respectively with Mr. Zwiers also scoring as the costume designer for the production. Matthew Harris hits all the right notes as the not so bright Mickey Loomis, in a character inspired by Mickey Rooney’s Whitey Marsh from Boys Town, while Meg Mark commits fully to her hysterical turn as the Patty McCormack inspired Veda Munson. Alex Pappas was drop dead hilarious as the truly insane Willard, one of the four roles he tackled in the evening. He also gave life to a Barry Fitzgerald inspired priest, as criminal Joe Loomis, brother to Mickey and as a stern prison warden. The impressive Timothy J. Cox scored in three supporting roles, bringing genuine pathos to his turn as a soon to be executed criminal, in a scene right out of Boys Town and Angels With Dirty Faces and as a surly stage hand who sounded like Walter Brennan, but was especially memorable as the William Powell-esque copper Eddie Knight, who really, really, really likes the movies. Best of all was Courtney Cook, who displayed a comic versatility that was downright dizzying, weaving expertly between four diverse roles, which included the aforementioned Sister Mary Joseph, a Rosalind Russell-esque newspaper reporter, an air headed stripper and a lonely housewife with a serious booze habit.
Also deserving of praise is Louis Lopardi for his solid sound design, which whisked me back to a time long forgotten.
In case I didn’t make myself clear, I loved, loved, loved this production.
The Asphalt Christmas closes on December 21st (I saw the show last weekend), but I hope to see it again. Next Christmas, hopefully.
For information on the production, please visitwww.theasphaltchristmas.com