This review has been updated.
Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass surely never imagined that the Winter Warlock from their 1970 TV Christmas special "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" would go into improv. The Troubadour Theater Company ("the Troubies") first cast the Warlock in "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Motown" at the Falcon Theatre in 2004. The breakout star, known fondly as Winter, has become a staple of their annual holiday mash-ups.
This year, in "Walkin' in a Winter One-Hit-Wonderland," Winter attempts the transition from bit player to lead, determined to prove that, "like Scott Baio," as he puts it, he can carry a show.
A long way from his stop-motion roots, Winter is played onstage by Beth Kennedy, who wears stilts and an extraordinary getup by costumer Sharon McGunigle to reanimate the angular, beaky, long-fingered figurine of so many of our Christmases past.
In a loose storyline that allows plenty of room for clips from past shows, as well as for the ad-libs and audience interaction pranks that are the real point of any Troubie production, Winter decides he is under-appreciated and threatens to quit acting, until three visiting spirits (characters from previous holiday shows) and Tiny Tim (Matt Walker, who also directs) conspire to teach him his true theatrical value. One-hit wonders ("Take On Me," "Ice, Ice, Baby," "I'm Too Sexy," "You Light Up My Life") are rewritten, lampooned and celebrated along the way.
As a rabid Troubie fan (converted in 2012 by "Two Gentlemen of Chicago"), I admit I've been slow to warm up to the squeaky-voiced Winter, despite his endearingly glum yet resilient personality. He embodies the in-jokiness that is, in my view, the only obstacle to a worldwide Troubie cult. This unique troupe with its punny titles and knack for repurposing pop songs has the ability to leap multiple genres in a single irreverent bound. Troubie shows occupy a previously unimaginable space between tour de force and travesty.
For somebody like me, who would pay to watch Matt Walker read a menu — as long as he did so in a sonorous emcee voice while bantering with dissolute sidekick Rick Batalla and introducing song-and-dance numbers directed by Eric Heinly and choreographed by Christine Lakin and Suzanne Jolie Narbonne-- "Walkin'" made a great Christmas present. But I did wish Lakin would join Narbonne,Katherine Donahoe, Katie Nuñez, Lisa Valenzuela and Andy Lopez onstage; I missed her.
But I did wish Lakin would join Katherine Donahoe, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, Katie Nuñez, Lisa Valenzuela and Andy Lopez onstage; I missed her.
I will add that this exceptionally self-referential show may not be the best initiation for "Troubie virgins." Winter is an acquired taste and, stilts notwithstanding, probably doesn't have the legs of a Scott Baio. Die-hard fans will enjoy deepening their understanding of this enigmatic being (who knew he had a gluten allergy?). Everyone else should definitely catch the next entry in the indescribably addictive Troubie oeuvre.
[For the record: An earlier version of this review omitted one of the choreographers, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne.]
"Walkin' in a Winter One-Hit-Wonderland," Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 4 and 7 p.m. Sundays. (Call for exceptions.) Ends Jan. 19. $34.50-$42. (818) 955-8101 or www.FalconTheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.