By Dana Casadei
Most Christmases there’s always one gift that doesn’t appeal to you – the one from the distant relative that still thinks you’re 12, not 23. But like your momma taught you as a kid, you still act grateful, smile politely and say “thank-you,” while secretly searching for the receipt. Broadway Onstage’s holiday show, “Christmas Belles,” is kind of like that present.
Let’s start with the positives, the pretty wrapping paper if you will. Beverly Dickinson’s direction nicely utilizes the space, having characters easily move on and off the stage. Each scene plays out like a skit on “SNL,” with a black light quickly going on to get the next scene ready. With Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten’s script, that set up works extremely well.
With a cast of almost a dozen, there’s quite a bit happening, with the main focus being on the Futrelle sisters: big haired and big-mouthed Honey Raye (Elizabeth Rager, one of the evening’s standouts), who’s directing the Christmas pageant; extremely pregnant Frankie (Sarah Oravetz); and Twink (Kelly Kucharski), the felon. Twink accidently burned down half a trailer park when lighting her ex-boyfriend’s NASCAR memorabilia on fire.
As you can probably guess, Honey Raye’s show doesn’t exactly go as planned. Revenge is plotted by Geneva (Jane Burkey), the show’s former director for the past 27 years, the majority of the cast gets food poisoning, and then there’s something about a polar bear. Simply, it’s a mess – and I’m not just talking about Honey Raye’s Christmas pageant.
I knew I was in for, well, an interesting two hours, when the first line slip-up happened only minutes into the performance. But I had hope that it would get better. This was second night jitters, I told myself. Sadly, this was followed by quite a few more throughout the evening, and from a variety of actors.
The casting also seemed a little off. Twink mentions that she was in a relationship for 16 years, but Kucharski doesn’t look over 25. So unless she met her boyfriend when she was 9, it wasn’t entirely believable; nor was the man she ended up with in the end. Same goes for her sister Frankie, who’s supposed to be the mother of Gina Jo (Kate Dickinson). I loved Oravetz’s performance; she’s funny and had a great deadpan, but she didn’t look nearly old enough to play Dickinson’s mother. The show’s couples didn’t have much chemistry, either.
As for the rest of the characters, the ones that had less stage time were more memorable than those in major storylines.
Dub (Rick Mason), whose storyline mainly revolves around trying to pass a kidney stone, is one you won’t forget. Mason is so over the top and ridiculous, but it’s fantastic. Same goes for Futrelle rival Patsy (Rachel Dalton), aka the town wench, and Raynerd (Daniel Woitulewicz), the town’s version of Forrest Gump. Patsy’s an awful character and not likable, but Dalton earned some of the biggest laughs of the night during Act Two, in a scene that could have been done even more extreme. Raynerd isn’t a man that says much, but when he recites “The Christmas Story” in Act Two, you can’t help but have a huge grin come across your face. Almost every time Woitulewicz is on stage, you will smile.
“Christmas Belles” is a show of hit or miss moments. Much like that present, you’ll either learn to love it or forget it by morning.
Broadway Onstage, 21517 Kelly Road, Eastpointe. Friday-Saturday through Dec. 22, plus Sunday Dec. 9 & 16. $18. 586-771-6333. http://www.Broadwayonstage.com