Updated Friday, December 21, 2012 at 07:01 AM
Holiday shows of all sorts continue to dominate the theater offerings, as per usual at this time of year. Here we give you the scoop on two zany romps in the spirit of the season:
The Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello.
“Wisemen,” the rambunctious holiday comedy at ACT Theatre, gleefully steals from popular comedy gangs of yore, while cashing the blank check for explicit sexual humor and offense-giving in our “South Park” era.
With a preposterous comic premise of a law firm that “litigates the liturgy,” and a show stuffed with songs, groansome puns, outrageous mugging and quick-change pratfalling, “Wisemen” is an onslaught of silly business. If they had time to physically tickle every member of the audience, I imagine the show’s creators, actor-writer David Bestock and composer Eli Rosenblatt, would work it in.
The manic energy and chutzpah generated by “Wisemen” and its cast (including Bestock) is considerable. But “Wisemen” relies too heavily on bombast, an onslaught of funny and unfunny shtick, moldy hubba-hubba jokes and ethnic and religious irreverence that’s too silly to be much offended by, but not sharp enough for a two-act mirth blitz.
Lawyers Goldberg, Frankenstein and Murray (two unorthodox Orthodox Jews, and an Irishman) are hired by the jealous Joseph to discover who impregnated Mary with Jesus. A randy Catholic pope, a leering Santa Claus and a lascivious Easter bunny are suspects. Mary (a bumping and grinding Dorcas Lewis) is, basically, a good mom and a party girl who would make Mary Magdalene blush.
It’s clear no harm is intended, but the cracks about Catholics and Jews get coarser and sour. What’s freshest are the musical numbers, vivacious parody tunes in various styles — reggae, mariachi, klezmer — and a killer rap bit by Bestock’s Moishe G.
A frolicsome Matt Fulbright and a diesel-loud Gavin Cummins also are in the cast but Bestock stands out as a hearty singer, nimble dancer and the most consistent laugh-getter.
But director Mathew Wright and the show’s creators don’t seem to know when enough is enough. It might have been wiser to recall that even the Marx Brothers took a breath now and then, dialed down the double entendres, and still kept us laughing.
‘Sleeping Beauty and the Pea’
A mustachioed British gent introduces “Sleeping Beauty and the Pea” with the traditional Scottish folk song “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” complete with rousing audience participation.
No reason, except it feels good and nicely evokes the jolly atmosphere of English music halls of old, the kind of place where holiday-season pantomimes (or pantos) held forth for generations.
The Fremont Players have embraced that tradition with the lively, kid-friendly “Sleeping Beauty and the Pea,” a crazy farce that encourages noisy crowd involvement and includes most essential panto touchstones. Among the latter is requisite drag comedy (Simon Neale as good fairy Esmerelda), a handsome young prince played by a woman (Katy Webber), a despicable villain (Debbie Tully), a friendly cow (Myron and Marilyn Sizer), and lots of naughty innuendo that hopefully goes over children’s heads.
“Sleeping Beauty,” a comic hybrid of two familiar fairy tales, adds a few delightful innovations, including a va-va-voom queen (Flora McGill), a dimwitted servant (Chris Huson) and a few in-jokes about Fremont and questionable manners in Seattle.
With a live band — the Fremont Philharmonic Orchestra playing a sprightly score by Kiki Hood — even larger than “Sleeping Beauty’s” cast of 10, the low-cost show is a full experience that captivates youngsters and draws wolf whistles, catcalls, cheers and hisses from adults. The spirited cast certainly thrives on a boisterous room.
“Sleeping Beauty and the Pea” by the Fremont Players, through Jan. 13, 2013, at Hale’s Palladium, Seattle; $6-$12 (800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com).
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
Through Saturday, by Rosenstock Productions at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle; $20 (206-292-7660 or www.acttheatre.org)
David Bestock, front, plays a lawyer and Eli Rosenblatt a leering Santa in “Wisemen."