Entertainment » Theatre

A Christmas Westside Story

by Trevor Thomas
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Dec 11, 2011
Matt Walker and Katherine Malak in A Christmas Westside Story
Matt Walker and Katherine Malak in A Christmas Westside Story  (Source: Chelsea Sutton)

I am a known fan of Matt Walker's Troubadour Theater Company and it is no happy task to report that their latest send-up, "A Christmas Westside Story", is pretty much a dud.

All the elements of Walker's normally spot-on formula ( saucy wit, inventive staging, sight and sound gags and elaborate production values) are present to one degree or another. However, stretching the Bernstein-Sondheim-Robbins masterpiece over a flimsy framework involving a little boy wanting a BB-gun for Christmas is a Procrustean effort as ultimately painful to watch as it is for the performers to try to make funny.

What humor there is comes mainly from shabby political jabs, juvenile antics, asides to the audience when things go wrong on stage (as they do far too often) and the first lines of Walker's parody lyrics. ("A gun like that would kill your brother" "I just found a gun called Red Ryder" and "I want a Red Ryder BB-gun" set to "America." )

The Troubies' best singers are flummoxed by the leaden lyrics, and the normally dazzling talents of veterans like Lisa Valenzuela, Leah Sprecher and Katherine Malak are wasted. The "Cool" number is an exception and Joseph Keane's high-energy performance of it soars. Walker himself makes a surprisingly effective 4th-grader, but vocally he ain't no Tony, and you cannot camp your way through this particular score.

Mention of which brings us to this: If there was ever a thought that long-time Troubadour musical director Eric Heinly's talents might end with effective pop song covers, it is here dispelled by his superb orchestrations and direction of a gifted 5-piece ensemble. It effortlessly navigates some of the most complex musical theater music ever written, including Bernstein's challenging 12-Tone fugue in "Cool," and the devilishly intricate rhythms and harmonies of the "Quintet" and the "Dance at the Gym."

In a similar vein, Molly Alvarez distills Jerome Robbin's singular choreography down to its most iconic moments, which she then expertly re-deploys as both homage and send-up. The company performs her steps with skill and precision, suggesting that this part of the show, at least, was adequately rehearsed.

There are enough orts on the platter to make this a pleasant snack for die-hard Troubie fans, but for neophytes and the merely curious, it would be best to wait for more nourishing fare. Anyone seeking light-hearted holiday entertainment will find plenty of other satisfying efforts out there to choose from, and if you are feeling especially Christmassy just now, you can always take in a "Nutcracker."

Performances through January 15 at the Falcon Theater, 4252 Riverside Dr. in Burbank. For tickets, visit www.falcontheatre.com.

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