A sign-in sheet didn't quite get made, so Robyn Peterman-Zahn improvises. Pushing her sparkly cat-eyed glasses slightly down her nose, she takes role by reading the cast list printed on the back of a T-shirt worn by co-artistic director Diana Evans Pulliam. They are surrounded by random acts of tap dancing, various explorations of wigs and small groups giggling as executive producer Steve Zahn shares video clips that will be incorporated into this weekend's production of The Smack Off: A Christmas Reality Show.
Yet, within 45 minutes, the mild mayhem at the Guignol Theatre earlier this week was tamed, and the cast was on stage showing off tight harmonies, crisply executed dance steps and sharp comic timing.
Their rollicking enthusiasm is reflected in the irreverence of the show, which is sort of the next phase in the lives of unlikely holiday characters created in 2011 by Peterman-Zahn and Pulliam in Smackdown for the Christmas Crown, the inaugural show of their production company The Rep.
It revolves around two Kentucky-grown singing groups, the Bobbies and the Billies. Over-the-top in every respect, the respective all male (Billies) and all female (Bobbies) clans are now appearing on a televised singing competition for the grand prize of a recording contract and the chance to appear at 42 state fairs. (Forty-two state fairs!)
All the singing and action, of course, is centered on Christmas with familiar tunes tweaked for comic effect before a background of a giant cascade of tinsel and a lot of glitter and shimmer all creating an effect that is less magical wonderland and more Dolly Parton's yuletide count down.
"It is not Tiny Tim coming out to sing at the end," said Zahn, a movie and television actor, most recently seen in several episodes of Modern Family. Zahn lends his talents to the Smack production as the unseen announcer who pokes fun at the fact that he seems to sound an awful lot like movie and television actor Steve Zahn.
Pulliam got to see the world of televised singing competitions first hand last year when her son, Evan Pulliam, competed on NBC's a capella show The Sing-Off as part of the University of Kentucky's acoUstiKats. She even appeared in an episode choreographing the group. But she says that was not the primary inspiration for the new Smackdown.
Peterman-Zahn said it was more "just all these ideas spilling around in my head."
The televised competition seemed like a logical progression for the kooky cast of characters, she said.
Pulliam said people who loved Smackdown will pick up with their cast favorites right away. People who have never seen the show will also be drawn into what she says is escapist theater at its best.
"You can come in, you don't have to work at understanding anything, you can forget your cares," she said. "You can come in and for an hour and 40 minutes and just enjoy yourself."
For all of the off-kilter elements, the show is at heart, family-friendly, said Peterman-Zahn. The majority of the cast of 70 are under 18.
The family-feel is part of the appeal for both the audience and actors, she said. There were tears, she said, when some people couldn't clear their schedules to be a part of the fun.
The Christmas show, which took a hiatus last year, was brought back in the new form "by popular demand pretty much," Peterman-Zahn said. In a few years it had become a tradition for some.
The expanded story line allowed the addition of a bevy of baby Bobbies and Billies and a glimpse into the lives that help shape each group's unique brand of artistic expression.
That is shown through video packages mimicking those "home visits" or "where they came from" on reality voice competitions. They were shot on location in Scott County and, suffice to say, there's a reason the Billies and Bobbies are who they are.
And, while they won't give specifics, the creators hinted that there is more to be seen of the Bobbies and Billies.