By Bob Evans
When you see the name Friend Dog Studio attached to a script, one can only expect their sharp, creative intellects to twist a story line, add absurdity, humor and satire to fashion an entertaining presentation–in this case, “Milking Christmas,” that opened Dec. 1 at The Living Room Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri.
Friend Dog Studios (Ben Auxier, Brian Huther, Seth Macchi, with Ryan McCall) premiered their newest creation, another musical, “Milking Christmas” to Kansas City audiences at TLR which focuses on producing local playwrights works and utilizing local actors, directors, technical assistants, etc. Previously, TLR produced Friend Dog’s “The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe,” originally for a KC Fringe Festival and then, later, a major retooled version with huge success for local audiences. According to Friend Dog, that show is now mounting a run in Chicago at a musical festival.
“Milking Christmas” allows the twisted trio to take aim at the Santa Claus story of Santa and his North Pole workshop where he lives in Christmastown with all the cheery citizens, toys, talking candy canes, talking gingerbread men, and elves. Along with the main characters, also expect cameos or at least mention of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” characters.
The story is fresh, delightfully funny, well-scripted, chock full of interesting characters, and some new, creative songs penned by the playwrights and orchestrated by their newest partner in crime, Ryan McCall. The addition of McCall took simple melodies and orchestrated them into popular musical-theater form. The lyrics, said to be a combined effort of the quartet, make “Milking Christmas” fiendishly funny.
“Milking Christmas” presents a story of Christmas and the fact that the focus has become on toys, electronics, and possessions with little or no regard for the spirituality of the season. Santa’s mission is to please. He rewards the nice children with toys and gives the naughty ones a solitary lump of coal to encourage then to be better next year. The story contains similarities to such classics as A Charlie Brown Christmas and even How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but by no means mimics them. The story is new, fresh, and creative.
And, just like the Peanuts gang, Friend Dog uses its gang of local character actors who adorn their shows and bring their colorful characters to life. The cast is: Elise Poehling, Seth Macchi, Brian Huther, Mike Ott, Nellie Maple, Ellen Kirk, Bob Linebarger, Ben Auxier, Andrew Stout, Cameron Burns, Margaret Veglahn.
The production team is led by director, Missy Koonce. Members of the production team are: Lacey Pacheco, stage manager; Emmy Panzica, production assistant; Regina Weller, production assistant/scenic artist; Missy Koonce, choreographer; Amanda Burkhart, scenic artist; Ryan McCall, music director; Missy Koonce, scenic design; David Kiehl, sound design; Nicole Jaja, lighting design; Nancy Robinson, costume design; Shawnna Journigan, properties design; Kyle Dyck, technical director; Emma Carter, house and box office manager; Ben Auxier, poster design; Leah Gunn Emerick, photographer.
Director Missy Koonce said that she had previously only worked with three of the actors but found the new cast easy and fun to direct. And, it showed. From the audience perspective, the camaraderie amongst the cast created a lively atmosphere as they worked through several character and costume changes throughout the show.
The show earned a well-deserved standing ovation, as expected. But if ovations for technical pieces were given, orchestration and costumes definitely stand out. The costumes were beautifully made and coordinated. The orchestration and lyrics pushed the enjoyment to a higher level.
“Milking Christmas” presents a family-friendly holiday show fit for the entire family. Different from most new theater productions, this one contains no foul language, nudity, sexual content, or moral dilemmas to ponder. There’s no darkness in this piece. It’s light, fun, and fast-paced. The show runs about 90 minutes, which goes quickly and never drags.
Word of mouth will swell audiences for this run, so advance reservations are suggested. The musical runs through Dec. 23. Times vary, so check the website for times, dates, and details.
Tags: “Milking Christmas”, The Living Room Theatre, Friend Dog Studios, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment