The Elves and the Shoemaker

3.5 stars

Saturdays through Dec. 26 at 10 a.m. and daily Dec. 27-31 at 1 p.m.

Indy Eleven Theatre

$15 adults, $10 children.

The Elves and the Shoemaker is a wonderful introduction for kids to live theater but has enough innuendo for the grown-ups to stay entertained too. In 2012, Dr. Julie Lyn Barber was awarded an Individual Artist Grant by the Indiana Arts Commission for “The Panto Project,” and The Elves and the Shoemaker took form. In the traditional British comedic style known as “pantomime” (panto), which is popular during the holidays, the Royal Panto Players present family-friendly, well-known stories that feature slapstick comedy, audience interaction, and cross-dressing actors.

The cast includes Katherine Ruegger as The Good Fairy, John Vessels as The Bad Landlord, Carrie Morgan as The Shoemaker, Craig Underwood as The Shoemaker’s Wife, and Ryan Powell and Kasey Cummins as The Comedians (who double role for various auxiliary characters) under the direction of Barber. The entire cast commits to the silliness 100 percent. No one shirks from the task of overacting; no self-consciousness dampens the fun in this intimate theater.

Everyone gets to hiss at the villain and help The Fairy with her lines. After a little hesitation, my 6-year-old gleefully joined in, giggling nonstop through the production, and afterward proclaimed, “That was fun!” The ultimate compliment. But I too found myself enthusiastically laughing and caterwauling with the kids.

The 8 Reindeer Monologues

2.5 stars

through Dec. 20, Thursdays–Saturdays at 9 p.m.

Theatre on the Square, Stage 2

$15 to $20

If the idea of Santa Claus being a sexual deviant deeply offends you, don’t see The 8 Reindeer Monologues. If, however, you find S&M, bestiality, and dick jokes hilarious, move forward.

In true Theatre on the Square fashion, everyone multitasks. The opening-weekend night I attended, Nate Walden, script in hand, stepped in for an actor who was absent due to a death in the family. One of the actors runs the box office and concessions. The tech guy was MIA. The director, Lori Raffel, is also the sound designer (with Eric Brockett, of the above-mentioned box office, who is also the assistant director), set designer, and program designer—as well as the artistic and development director of TOTS.

Sometimes delegation is a good thing.

The show is set in the North Pole police station. One of the reindeer has made a scandalous accusation against Santa. As Cupid states, Santa is “a walking, talking, holly-jolly sex crime waiting to happen.” Each reindeer, representing broad stereotypes, is brought into the station’s office to be a sort of character witness for Santa.

The show starts off promising. First up is Will Carlson as Dasher, the lead reindeer—a grizzled, war-general type. We laugh. Walden takes the stage next as the flamboyantly gay Cupid, and we laugh hysterically. Walden barely has to refer to his script, and he plays up the character unabashedly. He’s uninhibited and physical. Brockett as Prancer, aka “Hollywood,” has a chip on his shoulder because Rudolph’s claymation cartoon casts a damaging shadow on his movie Prancer. His part is amusing, but the segment is not particularly memorable.

Before the show slows down, Paige Scott takes the stage as Blitzen, the angry lesbian. Scott and Walden split the buck’s share of good lines, and Scott doles them out with mad glee and a slightly crazed look in her eyes. Is our childhood disenchantment with Santa Claus really just the first step toward repression of visits from the perverted old elf?

Then the show gets serious. It gets dark. It’s not funny anymore. It’s making a social statement. Stop. This is boring.

Robert Webster as Comet (a reformed member of Hell’s Herd), Jim Lucas as Donner (Rudolph’s weary father, who sold his son into sexual slavery), and Amanda Bell as Vixen (the foxy victim) are saddled with material that wants to rise above the base humor and be meaningful. Director Raffel has the actors play their characters straight, and Webster, Lucas, and Bell create believable, emotionally charged characters. (Tanya Haas’s Dancer, a dumb-blonde ballet deer, doesn’t have much depth to plunge.) However, it slams the brakes on the pace of the show, leaving you empty and a little confused. Before that happens, though, Bell gives us one last nugget of comedy gold by describing a drunken Mrs. Claus attending a party in body paint, pasties, and an elf strapped to her crotch.

Babes in Toyland

5 stars

December 13, Thursdays–Sundays.


Footlite Musicals

1847 N. Alabama Street

The winter holidays are the prime time to stage family-friendly fare. Among the local offerings is the timeless favorite Babes in Toyland presented by Footlite Musicals. The show debuted in 1903, so the script is now public domain, giving Bob Harbin (the director) and Claire Wilcher the opportunity to do some rewrites for the show presented on the Hedback Theater stage. Staple songs of the holidays “Toyland” and “March of the Toys” remain intact, allowing older generations to reminisce and introducing new generations to these classics.

The quality of this show is extraordinary, and when you factor in that Footlite is an all-volunteer organization (as in, no one in the cast or on staff is paid), it becomes even more impressive.

The show depends on and delivers a strong ensemble cast, live orchestra, and behind-the-scenes support. The cast numbers over 35 and the staff over 19, and an orchestra (conducted by Damon Clevenger) fills the pit, so giving credit to each person by name would turn this article into a reprint of the program. Suffice to say Harbin guides the cast effectively through mugging for the audience and hamming up the sentimentality.

Vocal director Melissa Al-Ling Walsh coaxes lovely melodies out of lead vocalists Jonathan Krouse as Tom Piper and Claire Cassidy as Mary Contrary, as well as a convincing drag number from Krouse in “Floretta.” Jeff Fuller as the villain Barnaby dexterously rolls his alliterative lines from his slipless tongue.

The dancing (choreographed by Trish Roberds and supported by dance captains Amy Matters and Alex Vasquez) is confidently executed by the cast, including a dance line of tappers and some startling acrobatics. Standouts are the gypsy dancers and Thomas Whitcomb as Jack.

Adorable costuming was created by costume designer Rachel Hobbs Shelton and head seamstress Darlene Uggen. The layers of petticoats and pantalets for Gooseland girls and the lively and vivid costuming of the gypsies are exceptional. Set designer Will Tople provides cunning backdrops for the show.


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Theater critic, Calendar editor, copy editor 1998-2009 and 2018+. Minions are awesome.

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