Nimbus Presents: A Count Up to Christmas is simply good old fashioned silly fun. A parody of the Hallmark Channel’s annual Countdown to Christmas campaign wherein they air 742 Christmas themed movies based on 4 not dissimilar plots, but featuring characters with completely different names, living in differently named but identical looking towns. Look, this isn’t the show to see if you can only see one Christmas show and finances are not a concern. But if you’re looking for a show to take the whole family to, that’s fun and won’t break the strained holiday budget, this one would be hard to beat. A target primed to be lampooned, Nimbus pokes fun at these films without being cruel. Playing with the tropes so that we knowingly laugh along, and you will laugh out loud throughout this clever little show.
The story centers around Caroline, a lesbian marketing person from the city, who two weeks before Christmas is fired from her job and dumped by her fiance. Her assumedly gay best friend swoops in to try and cheer her up sending her off to the small town of Wannacutatree for a week of relaxation. But it turns out that Wannacutatree is in the midst of its own crisis, the annual Christmas Festival on which the local businesses depend is drastically under attended due to lack of funds for advertising. Caroline who has never seen, let alone driven in snow, ends up with her car in the ditch. To the rescue is Deputy Sheriff Buck Sterling who gives her a lift into town and introduces her to award-winning Gingerbread Baker and Innkeeper Mavis. Buck is frequently and inexplicably accompanied by the ultra precocious Reggie, he’s eight, who is not his son but has assisted the deputy sheriff in solving several murders. Frequently and startlingly popping up is Mayor Chase Nulty who looks to Buck to help solve the city’s crisis. The town businesses, all of which seem to be owned by Charlene Larch are desperate to save the Christmas Festival. On Caroline’s first day in the town, she comes across the bookstore owned by Casey who shares her taste in authors. Will Casey help the town solve their marketing crisis? Will she fall in love with one of the townspeople? Will she learn to embrace peppermint spice and sprinkles? How old is Reggie? He’s eight, but for the rest of the questions you’ll have to see the show to find out. Though if you’ve ever seen one of those Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies you can probably guess the answers.
The script for A Count Up to Christmas is by company co-founder Josh Cragun and is filled with inspired comedic ideas. One of which is the periodic commercial breaks in the play proper where we get commercials for upcoming movies including a Twin Peaks parody featuring the Yule Log lady. It’s a fun script with a lot of elements that work but several that fall flat, though, most of those those have potential. For example, the Mayor has a habit of startling the other characters by his sudden appearance, not a bad idea but it needs to be reworked for greater effect. Likewise, the Mayors almost sinister insistence jolliness & holiday cheer, it’s an idea that’s played with but probably should have been developed further or cut all together. More could also have been made of the Charlene Larch character who owns seemingly every business in town. Thou in that instance it feels as if a tweak to the performances could have played that up better. Most of these are the types of things that you only really get a sense of once you see a show up and running. It would be great to see Cragun take another pass at the script for a future run. If he does so, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add more Reggie, he’s eight, particularly in the final quarter of the play when he seems to more or less disappear.
Speaking of Reggie, he’s eight, but played by the cherubic adult Alex Stokes, who completely steals the show out from under the leads. In a play filled with laughs, the loudest are always due to the performance of Stokes whose line delivery and reactions are comedic gold. When you have a character as hilariously well-written as Reggie, he’s eight, you have to have an actor with Stoke’s comedic gifts to cash in on it. The wrong performer could easily squander the potential, it has to be a hard role to cast and find the perfect tone for, luckily they found Stokes as he nails it. The cast in general is fine, there were a couple who seemed to barely have their lines memorized, and as such had no time to actually develop a character, leaving us with someone more or less just speaking lines so that we have the necessary information. Annick Dall, as Casey the bookstore owner, however was more than fine giving the most natural and winning performance. She generates enough small town charm and wisdom to create enough chemistry for both her character and Tara Lucchino’s Caroline to make you feel all warm inside and happy as their relationship develops.
I suspect that Director Liz Neerland would have loved another week’s worth of rehearsal. There’s so much that works here that it’s a shame the show has to settle for being “very good” when it has the potential to be “great”. But sometimes that’s the nature of theatre, we do the best we can with the time and resources we have and Neerland has done just that. Kudos as well to Scenic Designer Gaea Dill-D’Ascoli, this is certainly the most elaborate set I’ve seen yet at the Crane theater. One half of the stage is an indoor set that doubles for bookstore and the Inn. The other half is the outdoors complete with Christmas tree lot and sledding hill. The Sound Design is by Jacob M. Davis and Lighting Design by Jon Kirchhofer help set the mood and the tone. I recommend getting to the theater a little early in order to enjoy the fun Christmas songs chosen to play before the show begins. Also, don’t forget to pick up a bingo card and crayon on your way into the theater if you play along you could win a prize!
Nimbus Presents: A Count Up to Christmas runs through December 18th at the crane theater in Northeast Minneapolis for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://nimbustheatre.com/productions/count-up-to-christmas. I know I pointed out some flaws above but to be honest that’s only because the show is already good and that’s a potential to be even better. I had a lot of fun with this show and laughed an awful lot, I think you will as well.
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