Critique of the Week

Tony Frankel offers another tasty dish. Literally. Whatever your opinion of the opinion, hard to argue with the flair and imagination.

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDOORS
Tony Frankel – Stage and Cinema

RECIPE FOR A CHRISTMAS STEW

I sent this recipe to a friend, who will let us know how this Christmas Stew turned out:

This is a family favorite, cooked up every holiday season. There are a lot of ingredients, but if you start with the basics and improvise a little, you should be fine. Even though the ingredients change every year, your stew should be fairly predictable and satisfying. It changes year to year depending on the variables: some years the stew is undoubtedly the tastiest dish on earth; other years, the stew will ease your hunger for a holiday treat, but may make you wish for something hardier. Still, no one to whom you introduce this stew will be so ungrateful that they will leave your stocking unstuffed.

Begin with the Troubadours (my grocer calls them Troubies). If you can’t find them locally, head to the Falcon Theatre in Burbank. This will be your basic stock company comprised of actors, musicians, and comedians, but don’t substitute this stock. Make sure to ask for the Troubies, because they have been well-seasoned with Commedia dell’Arte and slapstick. Don’t be concerned that most of the people in this stock have been used year after year – they still retain their flavor of unrestrained, boundless enthusiasm and tasty characterizations.

Next, find a story. This year, try Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a 1964 television special by Romeo Muller, Jr., which in turn was based on the 1949 Johnny Marks’ song, which was based on a 1939 poem written by Marks’ brother-in-law Robert L. May (and for your Jewish friends who may scoff at this Christmas Stew you’re concocting, remember that Mr. Marks, who also wrote “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” was Jewish). Remember to credit these gentlemen if you are going to use their material as a base for your stew.

Stick to the basic story, which is actually very sweet, but not so much that it will overpower the stew. Start with Sam the Snowman as narrator (and get the unconstrained Paul C. Vogt, whose amiable nature and quick-wittedness are perfect for serving the tale). Add Rudolph, using Steven Booth, who is perfectly ripe and adorable for the misfit reindeer, born with a shiny red nose to Donner (Matt Walker) and Blitzen (Beth Kennedy). Soak Blitzen in plenty of Tab soft drink to explain Rudolph’s malady. The best part of your stew will be the comely Molly Alvarez as Rudolph’s girlfriend Clarice – and make sure that she whips up the entire stew with endearing choreography: It will prove to be the most delightful aspect that will keep your guests wanting more.

Locate Kyle Nudo for that nutty elf Hermey, who wants to be a dentist, and Mike Sulprizio for the Yukon prospector. We need them to join Rudolph when he runs away and ends up at “The Island of Misfit Toys.” And what Christmas Stew is complete without Santa and Mrs. Claus? See if you can get the ever-riffing Rick Batalla and Lisa Valenzuela – even if her character isn’t very well-developed, she will add a lot of spice when she belts out a song.

Which leads to the next step: Add some songs. Yes, Marks wrote a number of tunes for the special, including “Silver and Gold,” “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas,” and the ever-popular titular ditty, but this is Christmastime my friend, when we let go of the old and usher in the new. You can use snippets of these refrains, but best to write new material. If you don’t have the time or cash to invest in new holiday songs (and really, I wish you would unless you want to hear yet another version of “Jingle Bells” sung by the latest American Idol winner), you can add the music of another writer or group. Since we’re using source material from the 60’s, let’s go with the music of The Doors and call our stew Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindoors. Cute, huh?

Now, stir the songs into your stock. By all means, keep the original melody, but update the lyrics to fit the story. It is preferred that your lyrics are clever and funny, but we realize this is a one-time-only recipe. In your rush to create the stew, you will find that your lyrics will suffer by just being cute. But no one should notice since there are so many other ingredients going on. Beware of overstuffing words into a phrase just to make it to the end rhyme – yes, it’s cheap and a timesaver in the cooking process, but the songs will not have a lingering aftertaste.

(Here’s a hint: when you serve the stew, many of your lyrics will get lost with the loud accompaniment. Your guests will become disengaged if they can’t taste every word. I highly recommend Eric Heinly as Musical Director, especially if his drumming is flavored by Kevin McCourt’s keyboards, Jack Majdecki’s guitar, and Kevin Stewart’s bass, but the balance must be leavened. If no other sound designer is available, try John Campbell and Julie Ferrin, although they can be challenged when it comes to mixing.)

Before serving, dress up the table with Sharon McGunigle’s whimsical costumes, ensuring that they are both a send-up and homage to the 1964 special. Garnish with snowflake flurries (use toilet paper if need be) and a giant Abominable Snow Monster of the North. Mix for two hours and let me know how it came out!

Here is the letter from my friend after the stew was cooked and served:

“Well, my guests were certainly stuffed after this meal, but they all had one word to describe it: “fun.” Nothing more, nothing less. Some felt like the songs should have been used to serve the story better, but I did run out of time and just plopped some of them into the stew. Honestly, I think there are so many ingredients that – even though there were standouts – nothing really sticks to your ribs. I used your story, but I should have spent more time on the basic script – I guess I’m not as funny as I thought. Basically, it’s a run-of-the-mill recipe which had me satisfied and wanting more at the same time. Kind of like Christmas itself, huh? Thanks for the recipe!”

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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