In the opening sequence of Flying Anvil's Big F.A.T. Holiday Cabaret, one of the performers turns to the audience and says with a wry smirk, "Let's be honest, you'd rather be watching A Christmas Carol", and I just cackled. She was of course, referring to the excellent production currently on stage over at the CBT, and after having reviewed that show too, I can say that if you want a show about how Christmas ought to be CBT has you covered. If, however, you're more in the mood for an evening full of good-natured laughs about how the holidays actuallyare, then get over to Flying Anvil and let director and playwright Jayne Morgan's irreverent, hilarious, music-filled, original production fill you with some much welcomed seasonal cheer.
In classic cabaret style, the performers in this show routinely joke with audience members, break character, argue over different aspects of the show, and under the skilled musical direction of Carol Z Shane, launch into humorous holiday songs every few minutes or so. The opening number involves wishing us a Merry Christmas, Hanuka, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Festivus... and Existential Angst (to include the atheists). This is followed with an array of clever and funny songs covering non-traditional holiday subjects like farting on Mall Santa's lap. While the vast majority of the numbers are unapologetically goofy, the show sprinkles in a couple lesser-known holiday gems into the musical mix, providing just the right amount earnest sweetness before diving back into subjects like poultry stuffing related PTSD. Also following the cabaret format with great effect are lively skits and scenes that might have garnered titles like, Twilight Zone: Dirty Santa Episode, Incredible Banana Slicer Stocking Stuffer, and The Goose The Goose! (yet another hilarious jibe at A Christmas Carol). There are just enough local references about East Tennessee to keep the production intimate and amusing but not so many that it feels like pandering, so the overall effect is a polished but very informal, very inviting, and very very funny production.
The cast includes theatre veterans and relative newcomers, but unless you read their bios you'll never guess which is which. The performers play off of one another with the same lively and fast paced vitality you'd expect from a professional improv troupe; never letting the energy dwindle and sharing the spotlight with the ease of a true ensemble. Krisha Brook serves as the show's defacto MC and is decidedly charming in her slightly frazzled depiction. Curtis Bower (who somehow seems to be in two-thirds of the shows I've seen this year)returns to the FAT stage and delights with his broad range and focused execution of numerous comedic roles. Emily Helton, fresh off her lead in UT's Blue Window, demonstrates a clear comedic capacity, as well as infusing some refreshingly earnest moments. Brandon Phillips is bursting with vivacious energy and charisma and is definitely a talent to watch. Donald Thorne plays a hilarious collection of haggard Santas and other 'dad types' all of which are great fun. For me, Jessica Mangers-Rankin and Mandi Lawson created some of the evening's most memorable moments with show stopping solos and exceptional comedic displays, their combined talents serving to bring both the holiday spirit and the bawdy fun of a cabaret to life.
A review can only do so much to convey the good time that was obviously being had by everyone in attendance on the night I saw this show, but suffice to say that The Big F.A.T. Holiday Cabaret is pure fun from start to finish, and it serves to kindly remind us that the holidays are different for everyone, that they're perfect for no one, and most importantly, that they don't need to be perfect for them to still be special. You can treat yourself and your friends to a night of local laughter and music through December 31. Grab your tickets here.
-- JP Schuffman is a critic and the Managing Artistic Director of the Knoxville Theatre Club which fosters the development of theatre by artists in Knoxville and the Cumberland / Appalachian regions. KTC offers educational and training opportunities, and provides resources for the local theatre community.
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