“Judy’s Scary Little Christmas” at Arts West

OzFqywY9Xr96ep2CMzCqt9xRH7ZAFFEdeRPq4e7HqD2QGA2g9ztcWNasfG8LF1t6qIf a campy Christmas is what you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it at Arts West where Judy Garland is having a party. She’s planned a TV special à la the 1950s, and a number of her famous friends are stopping by. For Judy, its success is very important to her career.

What a guest list she has. First to drop in is Bing Crosby swinging a golf club. Then comes Liberace in a costume more flamboyant than you can even imagine. Ethel Merman is a presence with a voice that vibrates the scenery. Nixon comes next and isn’t too pleased when Lillian Hellman arrives. You can imagine why.

Meanwhile a charming ensemble of three young men in Christmas sweaters dance about the stage paying homage to Judy and performing little chores. Still to arrive is that dearest of mommy’s Joan Crawford.

The stage, made to look like a TV set, is filled with Christmas baubles and comfortable furniture carefully arranged. High above where the TV audience couldn’t have seen it, is the “applause” sign adding verisimilitude, but it’s clearly not necessary for the theatre audience. There’s plenty to generate applause in this play without a sign.

It’s funny. The music is great. The impersonations work well. Lisa Mandelkorn as Judy brings enormous talent and a great voice to the role. Another standout is Kate Jaeger, whose Ethel Merman won’t easily be forgotten. David Caldwell captures every fey gesture of Liberace, and Ryan McCabe as Joan Crawford gives cross-dressing a good name.

Most of that is in the first act. The second act seems poorly connected to Act I despite its good music, still funny lines, and impersonations. The story loses ground and takes a turn that is puzzling and macabre. Despite that, this production still offers a good theatrical experience.

Credit for the music and lyrics go to Joe Patrick Ward and for the book to David Church and Jim Webber. Troy Wageman directed and created the snappy choreography for this production. Christopher Distefano is in charge of music. His masterful piano playing is another one of the highlights of the show.

Through December 28 at Arts West Theatre 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).

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