Stage & Dance

Review: Studio Players stumbles with uneven 'Mrs. Claus'

Katie Swim, left, as Blitzen, helped inspire the play. Chip Becker plays Caperton and Ryanne Svec is Chelsea, a character based on Swim.
Katie Swim, left, as Blitzen, helped inspire the play. Chip Becker plays Caperton and Ryanne Svec is Chelsea, a character based on Swim. Lexington Herald-Leader

In presenting the world premiere of a Christmas musical, Looking for Mrs. Santa Claus, Studio Players clearly hoped to have found an entertaining new holiday show. Sadly, this is not it.

The play is an adaptation by Lexington writer Margaret Price of her own screenplay and book of the same title. The idea is cute enough, to find Santa a mate through a radio dating program, but the plot is an almost incomprehensible jumble of random elements, from stolen greyhounds to a magic banyan tree. Stereotyped characters with no apparent relationship to one another suddenly appear and begin interacting without benefit of introduction, let alone exposition. The dialogue, meant to alternate between comedic and meaningful, is clumsy and confusing, and littered with laughably trite expressions.

The songs by Lisa Palas and Nancy Peacock, whose program bios list impressive credits, are as weak as the script. The lyrics and music are derivative of tired and predictable song types, including three inspirational ballads about believing in yourself, two vampy numbers for the sexpot character, a couple of whiny tunes about loneliness, and the obligatory faux hip-hop piece. The music is at least fairly melodic, but the lyrics are inane from start to finish, replete with exhausted clichés, and set in mind-numbingly sing-song rhythmic patterns with an unvarying ABAB rhyme scheme.

Adding insult to injury, the musical accompaniment to the live singing comes from a prerecorded track, leaving the performers no leeway for expression or nuance, and often dragging down the play's pace with lugubrious tempos.

At Thursday's opening-night show, lengthy scene changes in the dark, and often in silence, slowed the play even more (the first act alone lasted an hour and a half). The scenery, dominated by flats of painted palms and a large banyan tree center stage, with numerous bits and pieces of crudely representational items, does little to help clarify the hodgepodge of action and locale.

The cast tries hard to entertain the audience, but they are sabotaged by the dreadful material, and as primarily amateur actors, they lack the skill to save the endeavor by community theater esprit alone.

Some of the leading performers are able to let their talent shine through. Chip Becker, as Santa's elf Caperton, has some amusing moments, and, as the mystical Nana Hawkins, Robin Dickerson strives valiantly to bring energy and heart to the play. Dickerson and Millie Hamilton, as Currie who runs a halfway house for unfortunates, demonstrate pleasant singing voices. School for the Creative and Performing Arts students Kenny Dumas and Katie Swim enliven the show as a rapping elf and a miming reindeer.

Director Alberta Labrillazo has done great theatrical work over the years, so it is disappointing to see the lack of polish in Looking for Mrs. Santa Claus. However, given the mishmash of performing talent available to her to fill the large cast, and the paltry play itself, it is possible she did as well as anyone could.

Studio Players should continue to seek effective holiday fare, as it is exactly the type of theater to offer something heartwarming and light for family audiences. It is regrettable that in this particular season, the play it chose is more like a lump of coal in the stocking rather than a chunk of marzipan.

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