‘Merry Chris-Mess’ takes audience on a wild ride

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

Dec. 20, 2018

From left, Zach Thomas Woods, Gage Patterson and Anna Otto in
In Tandem Theatre’s production of “Merry Chris-Mess.”

Mark Frohna

In Tandem Theatre has a reputation for offering alternate shows at Christmas time.  After many years of success with the inimitable "A Cudahy Caroler Christmas," the company has turned to a variety of slightly or not-so-slightly bizarre holiday fare.  "Eight Reindeer Monologues," "Scrooge in Rouge" and "Holiday Hell" are three past choices.

This year, not to be outdone, the off-kilter humor of Anthony Wood brings us "Merry Chris-Mess," a collection of sketches and songs.  Lee Becker, Chris Flieller, and Sean McKenna also added material.

Shades of the Cudahy show are evident in the changing of the lyrics of traditional carols, such as "I'm Dreamin' of a White Christmas," "Frosty the Snowman," and "O Come All Ye Faithful."  My favorite was "Plonski the Towman," but nothing quite matches "O Bowling Night," for "O Holy Night," as witnessed in the "Cudahy Caroler Christmas."

Some of the sketches are quite short, such as "Lucky Boy Cigarette Commercial," but others are longer such as the elves' uprising in "Look for the Union Label," which was clever.  Chris Flieller, ever a reliable comedian, entertained us immensely with his delivery of "Secret Santa Man," aping Johnny Rivers in the process.

One of the biggest hits is "Who's a Good Boy," starring Sean Duncan as Rex, and joined by Jocelyn Ridgely as Sasha, Chris Flieller as Ralph, Zach Thomas Woods as Nipper and Liz Shipe as Mitzie. All five created a very believable dog-fest. Dogs are so predictable, unlike humans, which may be one of the reasons we love them.

After the intermission, the play featured a parody on "It's a Wonderful Life," the classic story starring Jimmy Stewart, with their version: "It's a Life."  Zach Thomas Woods has Stewart's vocal style down pat, but his personality is quite different. This man is quite the comic actor. His faithful wife Mary is well-played by Jocelyn Ridgely, a woman who stands by her man Ñ no matter how pitiful he is.

Maybe the show went a tad too far at times with all the physical humor and the excessive flatulence of the bad guy, Mr. Potter, but by and large, it was well-done and quite amusing.

Director Jane Flieller is very skilled at pulling all the crazy pieces together in a farcical comedy. The costuming chosen by Kathy Smith and the musical direction by Josh Robinson all added up to harmonious and sometimes dissonant fun.

If you need a good laugh with an atypical holiday distraction, check out "Merry Chris-Mess." It's the only area holiday show that runs through Jan. 6, so if you're too busy to see it now, there's time even into the new year.


"Merry Chris-Mess"

"Merry Chris-Mess," a comedy, runs through Jan. 6 in Tenth Street Theatre on the lower level of the Calvary Church at the corner of 10th and Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Call 414-271-1371 or visit