Thursday, December 15, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Narrows Community Theater's production of The Most Miserable Christmas Tree at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Narrows Community Theater's production of The Most Miserable Christmas Tree at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Most Miserable Christmas Tree
Book & Lyrics by Tim Sulka & Debra Barsha
Music by Debra Barsha
Directed & Choreographed by Michael Chase Gosselin
Costume Designer: Lina Sarrello
Costume Coordinators: Jennifer Hansen & Marla Gotay
Music Director: Paolo C. Perez
Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater
403 General Robert E. Lee Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11209
Reviewed 12/11/16  

"Decorate Me! Decorate Me! Exaggerate Me!" is what a tinsel and ornament addicted Christmas Tree might say once stripped naked and discarded after the Holiday Season. "Not to be a prude but I hate being nude" is what Douglas Fir said after facing the stark reality that those who loved and adored him, lit him up, opened presents around him, and crowned him with a star, have now thrown him out along with the trash. This Homeless Christmas Tree Addict, now begs for ornaments and "will work for tinsel." Douglas Fir refuses to accept this fate and with the help of Mother Nature makes his way back to Mistletoe Mountain, Slocum's Tree Farm and Miss Balsam's Finishing School For Christmas Trees to obtain a diploma and get a second opportunity to serve through one more Christmas season. Having taken on the new identity of Scotty Pine, he re-enrolls in the school he failed to get a diploma from last year, takes a new Oath to Santa Claus not to be decorated when its "Not Christmas" and reconnects with Filbert T. Squirrel, his Worst Best Friend. While there, he falls in love with Miss Willow, gets addicted in Tinseltown (requiring Bark Tea - a good detox), discovers Sprig is the son he had out of wedlock and learns that Ever Green, his former lover and Miss Balsam's daughter, became depressed and died of Root Rot (probably from spending too much time in the Irrigation Field). Before the show is over, in addition to the homelessness, addiction, out-of-wedlock arbor sex, depression, and death already mentioned, you will experience stealing, suicide and attempted murder. You will also get to see the negative consequences that result when you have an all-powerful Christmas Council with the power to enforce its draconian rulings. Filbert gets frozen, Miss Balsam's Finishing School For Christmas Trees is shut down because Douglas Fir/Scotty Pine fell off  the wagon ("a single strand of tinsel is all it takes"- thus, engaging in Treason against the dictatorial Santa Claus), and in the end Miss Balsam and Douglas Fir team up to destroy Christmas by conspiring to turn the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree into mulch.

Despite the more serious topics addressed throughout the show, the story is short on substance and doesn't contain any adult references or double entendre that might make this musical interesting to anyone over the age of thirteen (I was hoping that, at least, Filbert T. Squirrel had hidden his nuts in Douglas Fir during the winter). The first act is also tediously long and could easily be trimmed. In addition, for a Christmas Show, there was no reference to Jesus Christ. That is neither good nor bad but I thought it noteworthy to mention that the show is entirely secular and fanciful. On the plus side, there are some wonderful big production numbers, colorful costumes, fine acting, and impressive choreography. Josh Vidal, originating the role of Filbert T. Squirrel, is an extremely charismatic, talented, professional actor who was a pleasure to watch. Similarly, the show could not go on without the tireless Max Baudisch bringing depth to the character of Douglas Fir. In a less capable actor's hands, an unsympathetic Douglas Fir could have made this musical unwatchable but Mr. Baudisch rose to the occasion and succeeded in every way. The character of Miss "Weeping" Willow got on my nerves for crying too much ("I cry for everyone - it's in my nature to nurture." - despite a 'no crying clause' in her contract). Silver's costume was most impressive. Iravan Bhatacharyya has an excellent voice (especially evident when he sang "That Crazy Tree") although his character, Sprig (who tells people to "Got Mulched!") is not very likable. The most impressive standout in the remainder of the supporting cast was Brian Kilday, who played Dad, even beating out the local favorite, Bennett Silverstein, who appeared as Grandpa, Garbage Man, and the Man in Antlers.

Douglas Fir is a very angry tree. His needles are prickly and he is not just any old miserable Christmas Tree but The Most Miserable Christmas Tree! At times, he is prone to "defy the Christmas Council" and its restrictive rules ("I defy your rules!"). Instead of praying to God to give him a second Christmas to serve as a decorated tree and to save the life of his son Sprig, he prays to Mother Nature to grant those wishes. In addition, instead of focusing on becoming the very best Christmas Tree he possibly can (he has always had a problem with balance), he's looking to have sex with the lady trees on Mistletoe Mountain. His dalliance with Ever Green got him shipped off to Slocum's Tree Farm and sold to the first customer who showed any interest. This year, he's at it again, dating Miss Willow, breaking his Oath to Santa Claus, and becoming a tinsel addict, which gets him expelled from the school. His life only goes downhill from there but this is a Christmas show so the story must have a Happy Ending! What the writers conjure up here is that Douglas Fir gets to be the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree for 5 minutes, reconciles with his illegitimate son, and learns that even though he is naked, that's enough and that to be happy, he doesn't need decoration or adoration. 

The children in the audience had a particularly good time and seemed to really enjoy The Most Miserable Christmas Tree. Many of the adults also seemed to like the world premiere of this musical because of its few big production numbers, well-coordinated choreography, and unique costumes. Tickets cost $25.00 for Adults; $20.00 for Seniors (60+) and Students (13-21); and $15.00 for Children (12 & under). Remaining shows are scheduled for Friday, December 16, 2016 at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, December 17, 2016 at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, December 18, 2016 at 2:00 p.m.. If you see this new musical, you will definitely get more than your money's worth in entertainment value. For more information and to make reservations, visit 

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