Theater Review: ‘Christmas City Follies’ relishes the holiday
The annual “Christmas City Follies” is Touchstone Theatre’s holiday gift to the community, and it comes wrapped in witty scripting, colorful costumes and fine acting, all tied together with a touch of satire and loads of wisdom. Created by the Touchstone Ensemble and directed by Artistic Director Jp Jordan, this year’s 18th edition of “Follies” continues through Dec. 22 at the south side Bethlehem venue.
Members of the outstanding ensemble cast are Emma Ackerman, Bill George and Mary Wright. Others featured in the cast are Chloe Anne Madison and interns Katie Colicito, Alex Vogelgesang, and Sarah Vogelgesang.
As the players themselves revealed at the start of Act 1 on opening night, Nov. 30, the performance seen for this review, “Follies” is about celebrating holiday traditions, cherished memories, family, and poignant stories. What makes the show original and highly-entertaining is the way all this holiday sentiment is packaged.
It is on the surface a celebration of absurdity, with singing penguins, dancing with shopping carts, a sunbathing Santa and “questionable interpretations of biblical characters.” Embedded more deeply, however, are commentaries on the superficiality of the holiday, and thoughtful reflections on what it is like to feel alone.
In the first “Old Guy” scene, a red-nosed homeless clown (Bill George) with a tinsel-draped shopping cart is looking for his friend, the baby Jesus, who has gone missing. “My favorite thing to do at Christmas is to hang out with the little guy,” the Old Guy reveals sadly. His continued search throughout the show is a compelling metaphor for, as it’s been stated, “the loss of Christ in Xmas.”
An overworked, frustrated Santa (George) makes his first appearance in “Wrapping It Up,” one of 25 sketches in the show. It is bedlam at the North Pole as elves bring in 3 million more “gimme” letters from children who want presents they don’t really appreciate. “It’s all about getting,” Santa grumbles. Santa throws in the towel and exchanges it for a bathing suit on a sandy beach.
The lively “Shopping Cart Ballet,” excellently choreographed by Ashley Tait Weller, does double-duty by poking fun at Pennsylvania’s new wine-sellers (forgive the pun), and paying tribute to Hanukkah in a hilarious Jewish folk dance set to the Christmas carol “Deck the Halls.”
Mary Wright in “Sister Mary Ignoramus Explains It All” reminds the audience that baby Jesus was born because they are all sinners: “the lost of the lost.” The sanctimonious nun boasts that she prays in Latin, Pig Latin, that is. If you want to know what she thinks is the worst thing you can do at Christmas, you will have to see “Follies,” but here is a hint. It is not littering the stage.
The sketches in “Follies” are interspersed with music solos played on ukuleles and sung by cast members in various languages celebrating their own ethnic heritage. It was an effective reminder of the need to cherish America’s diversity.
Costumes by Lisa Jordan and the cast deserve special mention for their colorful and sometimes unique design. They did much to enhance the overall production and to provide visual interest in the characters, especially in the “Little Red” segments.
Tickets: Touchstone Theatre box office, 321 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem; touchstone.org; 610-867-1689. Group rates available. Touchstone offers a pay-what-you-will ticket at the door, as available, allowing walk-up patrons to name their ticket price.