Who Killed Santa?
By Neil Haven
Directed by Joey Arena
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2017, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
There seems to be a specter of sameness hanging over The Alley Theater of late. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself; many theater companies stick with a formula if they are giving their audience what they want. But it is strange that I’ve now seen four productions in less than a year that end with the (rapidly becoming tired) device of having the audience choose the play’s conclusion. The idea was considered clever and exciting when, say, The Mystery of Edwin Drood utilized it on Broadway 30-ish years ago to solve the issue of adapting an unfinished novel to the stage, but I worry it’s becoming a crutch when the same theater company chooses multiple plays in the same season that use the device.
Be that as it may, it is part of the structure of the Alley’s latest production, the sporadically funny semi-musical Who Killed Santa?
As the title suggests, we are presented with a murder mystery at the North Pole when old Mr. Kringle (Holly Wolak) gets murdered during his own Christmas party. The suspects are the various revelers at the party: Frosty the Snowman (Marc McHone), Tiny Tim (Riker Hill), The Little Drummer Boy (Jessica Fryrear), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Dieter Zimmerman), and a new character (since I guess The Little Match Girl didn’t occur to the playwright), The Little Drummer Girl (Shelby Fogarty). Wolak also portrays The Tooth Fairy and Mrs. Clause, as well as a detective called to the scene to investigate.
As the play progresses, we are treated to drunken carousing, frankly uncomfortable sexualizing and ogling of a child, and a few musical numbers. Somehow it all works on a college-humor level, with some genuine laughs to be found among other jokes that fall flat. I found the songs to be quite clever, using standard Christmas carols with altered lyrics to propel the story, and I wished there were more of them.
The cast does their best with the material, a very talented group with a few real standouts. McHone’s Frosty is probably my favorite, providing the snowman with a whiny, slow delivery that reminded me a great deal of Burt Lahr’s Cowardly Lion. Wolak does an excellent job embodying various characters and imbuing each with its own recognizable personality (and the only one in the cast not using a hand puppet for any of them). And Fogarty exudes a childlike quality that makes it genuinely creepy when the male characters are lusting after her.
I have to say I question why the puppets were necessary. Each of these actors is well capable of creating these characters without the extra baggage, and I found myself watching the actors instead of the puppets they were operating. When I noticed the puppets at all it was usually because they were staring off into space instead of at each other, and sometimes their mouths were not moving while they were speaking. Being a good actor doesn’t necessarily make you a good puppeteer, and the whole exercise just looked they were trying to emulate Avenue Q – never a good idea to invite comparisons to a better show. (And was it just me, or did the Rudolph puppet look like a re-dressed Fozzie Bear?)
But as a murder mystery, it’s a bust. The fact that audience members get to pick the killer’s identity means it could literally be anybody!
When all is said and done, though, I did enjoy the show (I was even pulled on stage during the audience-participation portion of the climax) and I’m fairly certain Alley regulars will too. But like the old adage, “if you have it too much it’s not special”, I’m hoping that this is the last of this type of production we’ll see from the Alley in a while.
Featuring Shelby Fogarty, Jessica Fryrear, Riker Hill, Marc McHone, Holly Wolak, and Dieter Zimmerman.
Who Killed Santa?
December 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, & 23 @ 8:00pm
Beer and snacks are available at the bar.
Tickets are $20 and the show is performed on the following dates and times.
Go to thealleytheater.org for the exact schedule for each production and tickets.
The Alley Theater
615 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.