Saturday February 24th 2018

“Barney the Elf”

The Holiday season is here. Time to be “Merry” and “Gay”, and so theater companies such as Other Theatre, whose mission is to tell stories of persons or groups who are “othered” by systems of oppression, has brought back their sensational hit, “Barney the Elf”. This is a very “gay” spoof of the musical version of the hit film “Elf” and even more so, the musical version called “Elf the Musical” ( a version of which I just reviewed at the  Paramount Theatre in Aurora). This spoof is written by Bryan Renaud and has musical arrangements by Jermaine Hill. The lyrics by Renaud and Emily Schmidt are designed to take show tunes as well as holiday tunes and use lyrics that will help propel their version of the story- some are very cute, others so-so. The show tunes are done better than the holiday songs, but , let’s face it, the people involved in this production are all “show tune people”!

The story-line in this version is as follows: Santa Claus has passed away. He has passed the reins down to his son, Santa Junior ( a strong, Trump-like characture played to perfection by Jaron Bellar) who is making some changes in order to “make Christmas GREAT again! He is not so jolly and wants the elves to work harder and be gleeful less time. His bigoted rule does not allow for elves that are “different” to remain. They must leave The North Pole. One elf, in particular, Barney ( a bubbly Roy Samra) finds himself unsure of who he is and as far as Junior is concerned, he is far too joyful to stay. He is a bad influence on the others.

Mrs. Claus ( deftly handled by Maggie Cain) , in order to help her little buddy, Barney, sends him to Chicago (her home town) to start his new life and to find himself. He ends up in Chicago and gets a job in a drag bar, where he meets the enchanting Zooey (an incredible performance by Dixie Lynn Cartwright) who teaches him how to find himself and become who he is, rather than who others might want him to be. Can Barney change his life to live without Christmas? I will not divulge the imminent answer to this question, but will tell you that if you come to the theater with an open mind, wanting to be entertained, you will find humor and frivolity. If you are expecting the best in music- or dance? or even story-telling? this on is not for you. It is also not family fare for the holidays. I doubt that bringing Mom and Dad will earn you any points ( unless Mom and Dad are just coming out themselves).

With smooth direction and choreography by Tommy Rivera-Vega and music direction by Jermaine Hill, this is 90 minutes (no intermission) of fun and laughter. Tonight’s opening audience was very “theater people”, so the laughter was probably greater than normal. They got all the inside jokes and everybody loved the revised script that spoke to the Trump era. The ensemble players are of great importance in a show like this- they move from character to character and back again- without them, there is no show:Courtney Dane mize ( as Cookie- “no, thank you”), Colleen Derosa, Lisean Mcelrath, Cody Talkie, Emile Rose Danno- great work!

The set (Michael Johanssen) is pretty simple, but is holiday-ish and the lighting (Matthew Carney), sound (Ashley Pettit) and costumes ( Olivia Crary) are fitting. Remember , this is a simple production with one goal in mind- give the audience a diversion from the news  they hear all day, their ups and downs at work and make them go home with a smile on their face and a memory of having a blast. The production will continue through the holiday season at the Greenhouse Theater Center located at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, main stage on the first floor through December 30th with performances as follows:

Thursdays  8:00 p.m.

Fridays  8:00 p.m.

Saturdays  8:00 p.m.

Sundays  3:00 p.m.

NO PERFORMANCE ON 12/24 Christmas Eve.

Tickets are $25, students with code “STUDENT” are $15- this is an open seating production. You can purchase tickets at the box office, by calling 773-404-7336 or online at www.theothertheatrecompany.com

This is the third, or maybe fourth year of this show’s running. I guess we could say, Chicago has another Christmas tradition. God save us all!

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Barney The Elf”.

 

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