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Entertainment & Arts

Review: Did Carlos Santana ever imagine this? The Troubies get raucous with ‘Santana Claus’

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Beth Kennedy, left, Rick Batall, Giana Bommarito and Matt Walker get goofy for the Troubador Theater Company’s “The Year Without a Santana Claus,” this year’s pun-rific comedy with music.
(Ed Krieger )

It’s increasingly hard to write a review about the Troubadour Theater Company without sounding like a gushing fangirl. The group’s Christmas offering, “The Year Without a Santana Claus,” is among its best to date.

The Troubies have been mashing up classic Christmas tales with contemporary rock music for almost two decades. The current production, running through Dec, 30 at El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, blends the music of Carlos Santana with the 1974 Rankin/Bass animated special “The Year Without a Santa Claus.”

The Santana songs, including “Black Magic Woman” and “Evil Ways,” are classics. The source material, not so much. Santa (Rick Batalla) decides to go on strike at Christmas unless he’s convinced that children still believe in him — the galvanizing plot point that triggers a frantic odyssey to prove the Christmas spirit still exists. And, yes, Virginia, the Christmas spirit does exist. Santa ultimately is inspired to get his lazy duff out of his Barcalounger and into his sleigh.

Aside from the pun-perfect title, this is hardly the stuff of deathless drama. In fact, the digressive and paper-thin plot is just plain weird. But for the Troubies, the more offbeat the story, the better. This bizarre yuletide yarn is heaven-sent for the group’s signature blend of Christmas crudity.

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The Troubies' "Santana Claus": You get the picture.
(Ed Krieger)

The onstage band, in concert with Nadine Ellis’ salsa-inspired choreography, makes for lively musical sequences that rock the house. Audio problems plagued the performance I attended, but lapses were handled with typical improvisational flair, while designer Halei Parker’s blindingly glitzy costumes should have their own curtain call.

Troubadour founder Matt Walker helmed the festivities, appearing in numerous roles, And as usual, he was buoyed by company stalwarts Batalla and Beth Kennedy — hilarious, as quick on their feet (or in some cases, stilts) as they are with the quips. Other standouts in the excellent cast include Giana Bommarito, Chelle Denton, Cloie Wyatt Taylor and Dave C. Wright, who are funny and terrific singers to boot.

Whether you’ve been naughty or nice (and let’s face it, a year is a long time to be nice), all you want for Christmas should be a ticket to the Troubies.

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♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘The Year Without a Santana Claus’

Where: El Portal Theatre’s Debbie Reynolds Mainstage, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $45-$65; Salsa Sunday performance this weekend is $65-$75. Ends Dec. 30.

Information: (818) 508-4200 or (866) 811-4111, www.elportaltheatre.com

Running time: 2 hours

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.


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