In Tandem's 'Cudahy Caroler' has become holiday tradition

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

December 5

MILWAUKEE - Traditions rule certain holidays.  We see it especially at Christmas with shows that have sustained interest and drawn audiences over many years. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s “Nutcracker Suite,” “The Milwaukee Rep’s “A Christmas Carol” and now a frequent showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story,” “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and “Candy Canes and Christmas Carols” at various local theaters. 

In Tandem has also made its unique contribution to holiday traditions in its production of “A Cudahy Caroler Christmas,” now running for the seventh time.

Every locale has its flavor, and this show targets the “culture” of Cudahy. Many allusions to beer, football, factories, hunting, bowling, Polish sausage, and babushkas sprinkle the landscape amid the caricatures of idiom, dress and dŽcor. As long as people are not too sensitive about their territory and customs and realize that there is always some truth in all stereotypes, they can enjoy this affectionate satire by the talented Anthony Wood, Lee Becker and Dylan Bolin.  Along with the somewhat bawdy humor and outlandish plot twists are some very oxymoronic renditions of familiar Christmas carols. The beautiful blending of music with the hilariously doctored lyrics is quite the concoction.

The plot is loosely held together by narrator Chris Flieller, who as Stasch Zielinsky, is trying to pull together his motley crew of singers to perform one last time on a cable TV Christmas show. Stasch has been recently widowed and is at odds with his old buddy Pee Wee Kaputish, who is separated from his wife, Edna, who is angry at her daughter Nellie because of her strange career aspirations. The other members of this checkered entourage include Stasch’s son Zeke who is obsessed with Nellie; Wanda, a sex-crazed beautician; Trixie, a shy, stuttering librarian who uses alcohol as fortification; and a blind, mentally impaired pianist named Myron. The only time this group is harmonious is when they are singing.  

Two new members joined the cast this year and meet the challenge of following many stellar performers from the past. Samantha Sostarich, last seen in “Pump Boys and the Dinettes,” creates a memorable bumbling librarian, and Megan Kaminsky, a newcomer in the role as Nellie, captures the character’s wide-eyed romanticism as the hopeful water skier.   

Some repeat performers include Joe Fransee, as the inimitable Zeke; Nathan Wesselowski as PeeWee, the owner of the local bowling alley who knocks us out with his soaring final number; Kathleen Miller, who plays Wanda, the epitome of the sexy broad; and Lisa Morris, Pee Wee’s  wife, who longs for a more sophisticated existence in Whitefish Bay but can’t quite pull it off. And one can’t forget David Bonofiglio, who plays Myron, and is responsible for the musical direction and accompaniment and a lovely solo of his own.  

Among many of the clever 15 songs that are beautifully rendered, my favorites remain “O Bowling Night,” “When I First Saw Nell,” “We Tree Guys” and “Da Little Pin Setter Boy.”  

The singing supersedes the acting, and the acting is superb. Directed once more with love by Jane Flieller.  

When the stresses of Christmas preparation get to you, take time out for some light, cultish fare at In Tandem Theatre.  

“A Cudahy Caroler Christmas” runs through Jan. 5 at the In Tandem Theatre, 628 N. 10th St., Milwaukee. For show times and tickets, call 414-273-7206 or visit