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Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008

A South Side Christmas

Theater Review

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Good-old Milwaukee received a fresh load of snow just in time for the seventh annual (minus one skipped year) opening of In Tandem Theatre's Cudahy Caroler's Christmas, a nostalgic tribute to Milwaukee's South Side. The show featured close-harmony singing, rowdy burlesque and little or nothing to do with Christmas, but an abundance of the three Bs: boobs, bowling and beer.

The show's simple formula: Take a familiar Christmas song, write satirical lyrics in the manner of "Forbidden Broadway" (or Mad magazine, more likely) stuffed with as many in-joke references to "da Sout' Side" as marshmallows in Aunt Gertie's holiday Jell-O mold, and repeat. The story of an amateur chorus trying to get back together for a TV show is really just an excuse for the songs and gags.

More "Family Guy" than "Happy Days," Cudahy Caroler's Christmas grabs an edge of subversive humor that goes beyond madcap. Alcoholism, stalking, brain damage-even a wife's death in a hunting accident-are considered appropriate fodder for giggles. Not that the target audience will mind. For those who grew up under the Polish moon, the humor goes down as smooth as a Leinie. Such an earthy concoction in glittering Vogel Hall seems as odd as a brat on a croissant, though; I'd love to see it in a VFW hall sitting on a folding chair.

The cast, all accomplished clowns, harmonize wonderfully while keeping their cartoon characters firmly in place. Most of them are reprising roles from previous years, so they know exactly how to mug, strut and wiggle to squeeze laughs out of their none-too-critical audience.

But comedy, like lattke, is best served fresh. Despite the efforts of the talented cast, it might be time to give this Buick a retread. The sheer energy of the performers has an effect like apricot schnapps, however: It's thick, sweet and a bit strange, but by golly, by the end you're warmed up, loose and ready for winter.

Cudahy Caroler's Christmasruns through Jan. 4, 2009.

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