The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! is back for the holidays, tidings of good joy for anyone in search of outrageously funny end-of-year cheer out North Hollywood way.
Joe Marshall’s wild-and-crazy script focuses on theatrical and real-life partners Rod (Skip Pipo) and Manny (Milton David), a not-so-dynamic duo who’ve produced flop after flop after flop (“OklahomO!” and “The Wizard Is Odd” among them) and whose latest, The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever!, promises to be no more successful than its predecessors, though at least to their credit, not a single bad review has been written over the past four years.
Actually, not a single critic has even shown up to review a Rod & Manny Show—but no matter. This year they’ve got successful New York director Margie (Moremi Okoroh) on board, an old friend of Manny’s who’s agreed to do this as a favor for her buddy, and sits aghast as each auditioner proves more horrible than the one before.
They’ve also got a pot-smoking heterosexual technical director named Jim (Matt Larson), who’s taken it upon himself to learn gay slang with less than fabulous results, and a best friend named Don (Chase Cargill), who does his best throughout to balance the insanity around him.
Providing additional holiday merriment are Jim’s merrily homophobic, racist, Tourettes-plagued, walker-dependant Mom (Jennifer Eagle); a flamboyant costume designer named Tarquin (Mitch Rosander); an easily excitable stage manager named Janet (Lindsay Stetson); and a gay Latino Jesus—sorry, make that Jesús (Adam Serafino).
Also along for the hilariously bumpy ride are pretentious playwright M&M (John Hayden) and his swishy assistant Sam (Brian Spengel), with Hayden and Spengel returning for the pageant as a pair of sexily underdressed Brokeback Mountain shepherds; thuggy but ultimately tenderhearted pistol-packer Tyrone (Eljae); a puppet Santa (Page Smith); a flamboyant Joseph with a body and booty to die for; his foul-mouthed Virgin Bride (Tiffany Anne Jordan, doubling as a TV reporter covering the debacle); a butch lesbian Christmas Tree Angel (A.B. Farrelly); and accompanying the whole shebang on the piano keyboard, flatulence-plagued Martha (Mary Frances Moss).
If it’s not already clear, Marshall’s comedis personae make for as wild and wacky a bunch as you’re ever likely to see on a North Hollywood stage, and to add to the wackiness, we also get to see the gay train wreck that is The Gayest Nativity Pageant Ever.
Directors Paul Storiale and Bree Pavey keep the tone wildly screwball, the pace lickety-split, and the scene-change blackouts as brief and few as possible.
In an almost all-new (and mostly quite terrific) cast, Eljaye is the only returnee from both previous incarnations of The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever!, the show having taken last Christmas off, and he is scarier/funnier than ever.
I particularly enjoyed Larson’s adorable lanky dimwit of a Jim, comic-timing ace Eagle’s epithet-spewing narcoleptic hot mess of a Monica, Rosander managing to convince us that he is gay as a goose as Tarquin and then as straight as an arrow as Ted, and the eye candy provided by Estrada, Hayden, Serafino, and Spengel in various degrees of shirtlessness.
Oh, and we can thank the stars above that UK native Moss has crossed the pond by way of Australia (and a plane flight from her home base of New York) to tickle the ivories as Martha, and that very last-minute cast addition Jordan played reporter Tina and Virgin Mary as if she’d been rehearsing all along.
My favorite Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever moments still include the show’s screamingly funny montage of disastrous auditions from Shakespeare, Craigslist, and “the NBC daytime drama Days Of Our Lives,” and a side-splitting series of flashbacked parental reactions to the words, “Guess what. I’m gay!”
Marshall’s zany, zippy script holds up year after year despite a couple of a 180 degree tonal shifts, Lead Actor Scenie winner Pipo achieving the near impossible by making Rod’s passionate defense of gay theater both authentic and touching.
Less believable in view of the rapidly changing gay marriage landscape is Jim’s improbably erudite straight-man’s explanation of the need for marriage equality, a scene that could stand updating.
The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! 3.0 is the best designed so far, the production’s colorful backdrop a big improvement over previous bare blackbox stagings, and if this reviewer complained of frequent, endless, plunged-into-blackness set changes the first time round, by 2014 they are far fewer and far more quickly achieved.
Costumes are once again character-appropriate (and often a hoot to behold), with stage manager Ginny Cheung doing additional duty as lighting and sound designer.
The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! is presented by Fulton Entertainment and Storiale.
I greeted the closing night performance of The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! (Version 2012) with the hope that “Storiale and company might want to make Marshall’s comedy a yearly North Hollywood tradition.” Following a year off, I’m delighted to see my holiday wish on the way to coming true with The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! 3.0.
The Whitmore Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
December 21, 2014