Press Republican News Review: Making spirits bright
‘Roasting Chestnuts: Gina Wants You!’ to unwrap musical comedy treat
By Renee Tomell
You’d better not pout, you better not cry, Gina’s back in town — bringing her latest “Roasting Chestnuts” musical spoof to Pheasant Run. The highly anticipated annual installment is a heady concoction of irreverence and over-the-top comedy balanced by the sweet sentiment of the season.
Noble Fool’s original holiday series had its home in Chicago before the troupe moved to the resort’s new theater facility where it has continued Gina’s adventures. The fresh offering is “Roasting Chestnuts: Gina Wants You!”
This year, Jane Brewer steps into the role of the narcissistic Gina, the fictional diva who started performing in a family act as a child and has grown up a spotlight grabbing and understudy stabbing prima donna.
Decades later, she is the star of her own Christmas show, accompanied by her young troupe, the Zeitgeist Zingers.
Brewer does a skilled job filling the glittery pumps of longtime Gina actress Pat Musker.
All the performers have strong voices, put to the test in medleys of holiday favorites, some done straight, others turned into hilarious parodies: “O come, o come, Immanuel — to the Gina Oswald Family Christmas Show!”
Besides contending with their demanding diva, the Zingers have their own set of problems, whether it is a not-so-hidden flask or the amorous overtures of Carlos.
This holiday season finds our heroes invited by Wayne Newton on a USO tour to entertain the troops. As they polish their show at Pheasant Run awaiting marching orders, they are joined at Newton’s request and to Gina’s dismay by folk legend Dylan Roberts, a hippie-dippie incarnation of the Sixties.
Bret Tuomi plays the paunchy faded legend in splendid form, all fringe and light stupor. His big hit, “Whichever Way the Wind Blows,” manages to strike both comedic chords and beautiful balladry.
In Noble Fool tradition, the show involves audience members in a few improv exchanges, including an onstage visit with Roberts as Santa. (Be prepared if sitting near the aisle.)
And in homage to St. Charles, Gina coins a new motto: “St. Charles, pride of the Fox — shame of the muskrat.”
A few favorite “Roasting Chestnuts” numbers return, with new material provided by the show’s original co-creators Amy Binns-Calvey and Bonnie Shadrake.
When Gina’s troupe learns its destination may be Germany instead of the Middle East, a desperate tribute to “The Sound of Music” is added. “Edelweiss” becomes: “Ale or Weiss, (fill) my beer stein forever.”
A funny highlight each year is Gina’s outlandish costuming, be it her Christmas tree or snow globe dresses.
It is a pleasure to see Mick Houlahan back as Cole, the most veteran of Gina’s Zingers, and St. Charles’ own Courtney Rioux as the beleaguered Zinger constantly foiled as Gina’s understudy. The cast also features Charissa Armon, Mike Arthur, Naomi Ashley, Mark Larson, Katrina Kuntz and A.J. Wright. Musical director is Peter Storms.
Doubling as the comic Herr Knett is Larry Rothbard, who provides the fine piano accompaniment on stage.
From staging to singing and acting talent, “Roasting Chestnuts” is a satisfying gift of holiday entertainment that breaks all the conventions. (Fair warning: Props in the Nativity number include an incontinent lamb.)
Helping their audiences have a merry little Christmas are Jeff Award-winning director and choreographer Kevin Bellie and Noble Fool’s artistic director, John Gawlik.
BEACON NEWS REVIEW:
Talent, details highlight holiday romp
November 23, 2006
By Randall G. Mielke Special to the Beacon News
A dazzling, decorated Christmas tree only looks good when all of its separate parts — lights, ornaments, garland — blend together to create a desired effect.
As a stage play, Roasting Chestnuts: Gina Wants You!, being presented by the Noble Fool Theatricals at the Pheasant Run Resort & Spa in St. Charles through Dec. 31, is the perfect Christmas tree. It has a glittering array of talent, its stars shine brightly and the overall effect is one of perfection. There is not one area of this musical-comedic production that falls flat or fails to impress.
This delightful parody is a take-off on all the family Christmas variety shows that have been produced on stage, screen or television over the years, whether it is a show featuring the Osmond family, Andy Williams relatives or Bing Crosby’s clan. Comic diva Gina Oswald (played by Jane Brewer) and her singing Zeitgeist Zingers plan to entertain the troops in an overseas Christmas USO spectacular.
Along with folk legend Dylan Roberts (played by Bret Tuomi), the cast members rehearse the show and the Pheasant Run crowd gets to take a peek at what Gina has in store musically for the faraway lads and lasses in uniform.
Spirited and hilarious numbers pepper the show and at the end of the first act an unexpected turn of events means the cast must alter it plans. The rest of the show moves smoothly and joyously to a satisfying conclusion.
The excellence of this show starts with the writing. Amy Binns-Calvey and Bonnie Shadrake have scripted a lively, funny and entertaining play, and the musical arrangements and new songs by Bonnie Shadrake are terrific. She shows her versatility as she addresses all the possible holiday religious affiliations in such songs as Politically Correct and then, in the second act, has a song that is a direct take off on The Sound of Music. In this song, The Sound of Gina, Dylan, Gina and the cast follow the tune of Edelweiss but sing “Ale or weiss, ale or weiss, bless my beer stein forever.” A very clever number.
Brilliant performances are turned in by each and every one of the cast members, but of particular note are Jane Brewer as Gina Oswald and Bret Tuomi as Dylan Roberts. The versatile Brewer is a good singer and a talented comedic actress. She portrays Gina as a bit full of herself, but lovable and charming. Tuomi, as Dylan, a wasted hippie caught in a time warp of the 1960s, creates the right balance of befuddlement and awe. Also of note is the piano player Larry Rothbard as Herr Barry Von Knett. Not only does Rothbard keep the pace of the show going at a fast clip with his expert musical talents, but the writers cleverly gave the character some exceptionally derisive lines, which Rothbard handles beautifully.
The eight members of the Zeitgeist Zingers, all extremely talented individuals, perform admirably. They are (in alphabetical order): Charissa Armon, Mike Arthur, Naomi Ashley, Mick Houlihan, Mark Larson, Katrina Kuntz, Courtney Rioux and A.J. Wright. Each one is a joy to watch.
The direction and choreography, both by Kevin Bellie, are terrific. The first two numbers in the production showcase the dancing talents of all of the performers. The attention to detail in the show, both in character and in staging, is also impressive, and credit should go to Bellie. The director never lets the characters who are not in the main part of the play’s action simply wait around for their next line. Whether it be Dylan Roberts tapping on a window to come in from the snow; or the inebriated Noelle (Charissa Armon), with flask in hand, always sneaking a drink; or the forever despondent Holly (Naomi Ashley) crying on someone’s shoulder; or even the sardonic Herr Barry Von Knett (Rothbard) taking a slug out of a bottle of vodka, Bellie keeps the action going and this adds greatly to overall feel of the show.
Attention to detail is also apparent in the costuming, skillfully handled by costume designer Kimberly G. Morris. Except for the Snow/Suzy Snowflake number which puts the cast members in variations of blue and white, pretty much every conceivable combination of red, green and white is utilized to create a variety of costumes throughout the show. In addition, Gina appears in numerous costumes, all of which are suitable for the number she is performing. The highlight of her apparel is in the O Christmas Tree number where, appropriately, she is dressed like a Christmas tree.
As comfortable as Gina (Brewer) is in the costumes, she appears equally as comfortable when performing an improvised number in the show. For this part of the performance, Brewer steps into the audience and talks briefly with an audience member. (On this particular night it was Fred, a retired physical education teacher who is wearing a white tie.) Then, after checking with resourceful pianist Barry (Rothbard), the two of them create a song on the spot related to the audience member.
The cast also gets into the improvisational act when audience members are brought up on stage to sit on Dylan Robert’s lap as he portrays Santa Claus.
Improvisation is never an easy thing to do, but this exceptional cast pulls it off with seemingly little effort.
This wonderfully funny and musically delightful play is a brilliant display of Christmas cheer and should not be missed. Hop in your sleigh and get over to the Pheasant Run Resort & Spa to treat yourself to an early Christmas present. You will be glad you did.
Roasting Chestnuts: Gina Wants You! will be presented at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays; at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays; and at 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Pheasant Run Resort & Spa through Dec. 31. Matinee performances will be held at 2 p.m. on Nov. 29, Dec. 6 and Dec. 13. Tickets range from $27 to $37 and Dinner Show packages are also available. For tickets, call the Pheasant Run box office at (630) 584-6342, or visit www.ticketmaster.com. The Pheasant Run Resort & Spa is located at 4051 E.
Main St., St. Charles, IL. Additional performance information may be obtained at www.noblefool.org.