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Theater Review: "The Stardust Christmas Blizzard" at Harlequin Productions

Raisons d'être: Reasons to be, for "Stardust" and me

Christian Doyle wears a present-day Superman suit in "The Stardust Christmas Blizzard" at Harlequin productions. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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Saturday, Jan. 4 at 6:30 p.m., Tacoma Little Theatre will host a roundtable conversation between theater practitioners and theater audiences. I've arranged it to start a dialogue that'll serve, I hope, to boost attendance community-wide and give artistic directors a better idea what you want your ticket price to buy. The topics are:

  1. What are the purposes and benefits of theater criticism?
  2. What factors are weighed when selecting a season of play scripts?

These questions may seem inside-baseball, especially the first; but they weigh heavily in my reviews, for example, of schmaltzy Stardust revues at Harlequin. I'm not a huge fan. Last year, I had nothing but good to say about A Christmas Survival Guide, the show Harlequin intended to eclipse its Stardust holiday franchise. In that respect, Survival Guide apparently failed - so here we are again, with Stardust XVIII.

You don't need a review. You know what you'll get: two-plus hours of warmed-over banter and half-hearted romance, interspersed with classy renditions of old-favorite songs. My opinion of that doesn't matter, to you or the company. Two and a Half Men is in its 11th season, despite the fact that its jokes suck, its plots are a thousand years old, and all but one of its two and a half men have flown the coop. People love the familiar. Stardust Christmas Blizzard got a standing O Saturday night. As we walked out, we overheard two patrons deriding "that abysmal show last year."

As show director and company artistic manager Linda Whitney conceded in her curtain speech, the recession has bludgeoned the arts business. I'm not sure Harlequin is thrilled with doing Stardust each November, either, but the show must go on. Save smartsy plays for spring, when attention spans are longer and subscriber cash replenishes the coffers. In the meantime, here's Christian Doyle doing Frank Sinatra and a beat poet. Here's Amy Shephard in a clown suit and roller skates, like ya do. Maggie Lofquist has a lovely alto singing voice, which sounds great with Shephard's. Mark Alford pulls off a fabulous Elvis but overacts manically throughout the show. Company newbie Robert Humes is nervous yet perfect for "Chances Are." He plays a continuation of that time-honored entertainment trope, the Magical African-American. (See The Matrix, Bruce Almighty, and every Stephen King novel.)

The music's executed with polish and conviction. Whitney nudges the setting into the late 1950s, the better to suit her Boomer base. Expect a "Blue Christmas," "Jingle Bell Rock," and (why the hell not) "Mele Kalikimaka." Shephard's choreography is designed and handled well, and the sound design is clear. Maybe next year's inevitable Stardust Sharknado could have less talk, more rock?

Note: showtimes include a Christmas Eve matinée at 2 p.m. and a New Year's Eve closer at 7 p.m.

THE STARDUST CHRISTMAS BLIZZARD, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 31, Harlequin Productions, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, $25-$38, 360.786.0151

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