Theater Review: Touchstone ‘Follies’ explores season’s wonder, with laughter
If you thought vaudeville was dead, then you obviously haven’t seen “Christmas City Follies XIX,” continuing through Dec. 23, Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem.
An annual vaudevillian holiday tradition for the past two decades, “Follies” has a talented seven-member ensemble that sings, dances, jokes and satirizes its way through its original music and scripts.
Dressed as Christmas trees, part of the ensemble opens the show singing a tribute to “O Tannenbaum,” and playing green kazoos. Throughout the night, could also be heard the sound of iconic ukuleles.
Bill George reprises his witty “Old Guy” homeless clown with the shopping cart routine. As the “humble vessel of humanity,” he is trying to sell the audience various worthless “treasures” from the cart at exorbitant prices.
When the show was reviewed Dec. 7, the BNSN (Better Not Shout) Network was giving out periodic “Feliz Navidad” reports, and there was a story majestically told by Emma Ackerman that puppet goblins had taken over a synagogue during Hanukkah.
As an elf-like character with a large red nose, Mary Wright follows orders from an unseen voice that forces her into all kinds of laughable yoga-like contortions. She is a joy to watch.
Lying beneath the hilarity and absurdities are truths to ponder, a little biting commentary and lots of common sense. George’s shopping-cart clown laments that “the world sucks. Everyone is in it for themselves. It’s not the American way.”
In an obvious commentary on iPhones, the cast stands on stage texting as the narrator proclaims, “They shared the good news far and wide.”
During the dinner scene in act two, kidnapped BNSN cast members are forced to read from prepared scripts that expose insincere cliques of the holiday season. The meaning is that it is time to bring back the real wonder of Christmas, and take a break and spend time together with those important in one’s life. The messages are subtle and packaged in highly-entertaining performances.
The youngest cast member, Alexander Vogelgesang, adds a youthful energy and enthusiasm to “Follies.” A homeschooled high school junior, he is a natural comic, not to mention, gymnast.
Other talented members of the ensemble are Alyssa Lou Ann Allen, who has a beautiful singing voice, and Samantha Beedle and Sarah Vogelgesang.
Jp Jordan’s set is hung with a black curtain upstage, a pull-down video screen on which images are shown, and a decorated Christmas tree standing stately in a corner. It is enhanced in various scenes with a painted fireplace, tables and colorful cutout props of a turkey, Christmas pudding and other visual art by Allen. Costumes by Lisa Jordan are, as always, clever, fanciful and colorful.
Seeing a performance of “Christmas Follies XIX” is a good place to begin to take the show’s advice and “notice the wonders that still exist in the world.”
Tickets: Touchstone Theatre box office, 321 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem; touchstone.org; 610-867-1689. Group rates available. Touchstone offers a pay-what-you-will ticket at the door, as available, allowing walk-up patrons to name their ticket price.