Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008

A Cudahy Caroler, "See ‘Ya Later."

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Once again, In Tandem’s long-lived local holiday comedy A Cudahy Caroler Christmas comes to the Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall. Born on a much smaller stage to a much smaller audience, it’s interesting to think of Chris Flieller in the role of south side blue collar workin’ guy Stasch Zielinski sharing the same roof as a musical by Harry Connick Jr. and the many surreal costumes of a certain ever-popular Tchaikovsky Christmas ballet. The show has grown to reach a kind of local status that would seem grossly out of place at a smaller space, though, making A Cudahy Caroler seem almost at home in the heart of the theatre district. In light of this it seems a bit disappointing that the show would not be returning next year.

Having seen the enjoyable musical with the Wisconsinized Christmas song lyrics a number of times over the years, the show has left a strong impression on me. It’s difficult to hear instrumental versions of some of those classic Christmas songs without hearing the Cudahy lyrics . . . the lyrics of O Tannenbaum seem to make as uch sense to me as the lyrics of Ach Ja der Once. Having recently moved to the south side, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem seems far more distant than Oh Little Town of Cudahy.

With cast, set and costuming more or less identical to last year’s, my memories of the show blur together into details. Becky Spice’s ambitious malapropisms as the upwardly mobile Edna Kaputish seem as anxious as ever. Kristen Pawlowski Fischer has now appeared onstage as her daughter and aspiring water ski queen a ridiculous number of times. She seems to live quite comfortably in the role of Nell. Aside from Flieller’s affable comic delivery in the role of Stasch, the most interesting comic performances here are Rick Pendzich in the role of Zeke Stasch’s son Zeke and Alison Mary Forbes as alcoholic librarian Trixie Schlaarb. Author Anthony Wood wrote a subtle, comically twisted obsession with Nell. Pendzich’s performance seems to carry across Zeke’s darker side in some brilliantly subtle comic moments. I don’t know if Forbes’ performance is any more detailed than it was last year, but I seem to have noticed more details this time around. At one point, Stash is feeding her from a box of wine before the big show and her hands are working the air as though she were a cat suckling at her mother. She’s intoxicated later on and treating that same box as though it was a guitar. She’s drunkenly doing the hustle, seamlessly shifting into the Thriller dance . . . it’s difficult to describe the comedy n her style of physical humor, but there’s a lot going into Forbes’ performance here and she seems to be having a really good time doing it. Nathan Wesselowski’s performance as Edna’s husband Pee Wee doesn’t seem quite Cudahy enough for me . . . the speech just a bit too intelligible—the delivery of some of Wood’s more minimalist treatment of the Sout’ side accent never managed to sound right, but the man has an incredible voice and with him leading the final song—Oh, Bowling Night makes up for any awkwardness in the role. Hearing the overly dramatic musical tale of…what is essentially a zero score in bowling if I understand things correctly seems that much more epic when a guy with Wesselowski’s voice is delivering the full intensity of the emotional tragedy of “crossing the line—the line of shame.”

Having visited these characters nearly every year for the past . . . half decade or something . . . they seem like distant relatives. The ones you only ever see at Christmas. It’s a bit difficult to imagine not seeing them next year, but I don’t know how to relate to future Christmases without the possibility of seeing them again. So, rather than saying good-bye to the Carolers, I’d prefer to say something more along the lines of, “see ya later, there hey.” It’s easier that way.

A Cudahy Caroler Christmas runs through January 4 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

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