Category: Holiday Show

REVIEW: Annoyance Theatre’s “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”

TV Classic Transfers Smoothly to the Stage

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The Annoyance Theatre presents:

The Annoyance Christmas Pageant: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

by Rankin/Bass
directed by Megan Kelleher
thru December 20th (ticket info)

review by Keith Ecker

poster I have a distinct memory of sitting in my pajamas as a boy on a brisk winter evening in Texas. The light of the television provided a mock warmth. The big networks had suspended their regular prime-time programming to honor the Christmas season. The usual annual cartoon fair flashed on the screen including the likes of Garfield and Charlie Brown, intermittently interrupted by messages from Campbell Soup and Coca-Cola, both of which wanted me to have a happy holiday and a stocked cupboard of their products.

Amid this Technicolor blend of holiday and commercial cheer were the unforgettable Rankin/Bass-produced featurettes. The most popular—amongst my household anyway—was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a strange telling of the history of Rudolph from birth to ostracization to, for all intensive purposes, canonization. The characters, like in all of the Rankin/Bass specials, appear as stiff, herky-jerky figures. That’s because the specials used stop-motion animation, a method where animators painstakingly pose figurines from shot to shot to give them the appearance of movement. Cheesy songs, a feel-good moral and a narrating snowman completed the show, which has now regularly played on television for the last 45 years.

That’s why it’s high time that the cartoon transitioned from the television and onto the stage. And thankfully the classic gets the top-notch treatment it deserves from the talented folks at The Annoyance Theatre.

For those expecting the usual adult-themed fodder of the Annoyance (the same theatre that brought us Co-Ed Prison Sluts), you will be sorely disappointed. The show is intended for children. However, those who have fond memories of the childhood classic will enjoy the staged retelling, recalling the whimsy of youth and the exuberant holiday spirit that seems to fade with age.

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The production stays true to the t.v. special with only slight adjustments. Sam the Snowman (Jason Geis) narrates the story, setting the stage for Rudolph’s birth and his unfortunate deformity—his bright, shiny red nose. Rudolph (Leslie Nesbit) tries to join the other reindeers in their reindeer games. These games are basically a training camp to teach the young calves to fly and one day join Santa’s sleigh team. Their coach (David Jennings) discovers Rudolph’s red nose, which had been concealed with a prosthetic, and bans him from practice. Meanwhile, in Santa’s workshop is Hermey (Alex DiGiacinto), an elf who doesn’t want to be an elf, but instead aspires to be a dentist. His boss, the head elf (Tim Soszko), sends him home for his disobedience.

Hermey and Rudolph meet and become fast friends. The two run away together and encounter Yukon (Collin Blackard), an arctic prospector. The three continue together on a journey, which takes them to the Island of Misfit Toys. Here they meet an assortment of outcast playthings including a jack-in-the-box unfortunately named Charlie (Tim Soszko).

Meanwhile, the Bumble (Steven Whitney), an abominable snow monster, is on the trail of the adventurers, in part because of Rudolph’s nose, which shines like a beacon. In an effort to protect his friends, Rudolph separates from the pack to find his reindeer family.

Nesbit does a wonderful job mimicking the voice of Rudolph from the televised special and brings a genuine childlike charm to the role that will certainly have children relating to the central character. Geis plays the snowman with absolute commitment. His awkward shuffling, which is meant to resemble the animation of the t.v. program, and detached, over-the-top facial expressions are subtly hilarious. Children probably won’t give it a second thought, but for the adults in the audience, his extreme jolliness is delightfully unsettling. Tahnee Lacey, who has a small role as Mrs. Claus, stands out for her unrelenting homage to the original text. She moves in stop motion, as if each second an unseen hand is adjusting her appendages.

There are a few musical numbers throughout, and it is obvious that the cast was not chosen for their vocal talents. Sounding much like a children’s choir, voices are slightly off key at times. This is forgivable, as the whole production has the intentional feel of an amateur pageant rather than a polished play. However, the lack of vocal projection is a distraction, causing the audience at times to strain to hear the performers over the piano.

Director Megan Kelleher does a nice job of maximizing the Annoyance’s tiny space. She occasionally spills the cast off the stage to create certain visual effects, such as when the heroes evade the monster by floating away on a tiny island of ice. However, there were times where the stage picture was cluttered with actors interrupting the view of the action from certain angles.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a nearly perfect holiday treat for children and adults alike. Don’t go in expecting a highly polished production. Rather, this is pure fun played out with a fancy that will bond you and your child through Christmas cheer and nostalgia.

Rating: ★★★½

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December 6, 2009 | 4 Comments More

REVIEW: American Theatre’s “Its a Wonderful Life”

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American Theatre Company presents:

It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play

Adapted from the film by Frank Capra
Screenplay written by
Goodrich, Hackett, Swerling and Capra
Based on a short story by
Philip Van Doren Stern
Directed by
Jason Gerace
Thru December 27th  (ticket info)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

microphone “Man’s suicide thwarted on Christmas Eve” sounds like a newspaper headline, not the premise of a holiday tradition. In American Theatre’s 8th-annual production, Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, based on the book The Greatest Gift, is re-imagined on stage as a radio play. Though most have seen the movie, the story deals with a distraught businessman George Bailey who eventually considers killing himself so his family may benefit from a life insurance policy. Clarence, angel second class, tries to earn his wings by helping George understand significance of his life. Performed in 80 minutes without an intermission, American Theatre Company’s It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play is a nicely wrapped holiday gift.

It could possibly be said that Wonderful Life is the original dramedy. The plot is Hollywood’s schmaltzy tragedy with a “feel good” happy ending. Within the story of a suicide attempt, the Capra team has created strong characters delivering memorable lines. “Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?”, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people.”, “No gin tonight, son!”, “Get me…I’m giving out wings.”, “Excuse me! Excuse me! I burped!”, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” and the ever powerful, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” The timeless lines invoke the familiar swirl of sentimental tears and chuckles.

Starting with this strong, beloved script, director Jason Gerace adds a cast of nine members to perform the Christmas classic. The stage is the broadcast room at radio station WATC. The radio announcer (Alex Goodrich) begins the show by prepping the studio audience with “on the air” protocols and the importance of the APPLAUSE sign lighting up. Alan Wilder, playing two key roles – Clarence and Mr. Potter, perfectly mimics the original performances of Henry Travers and Lionel Barrymore. As crotchety old Potter, Wilder mockingly delivers, “You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money.”  Later, as Clarence, Wilder innocently requests, “Mulled wine, light on the cinnamon heavy on the cloves. Off with ya lad and be lively!”

Another player that provides dead-on imitations of multiple characters is Jessie Fisher. As man-eater Violet, Fisher seductively says, “What? This old thing? Why I only wear it when I don’t care how I look.” Then Fisher becomes 8 year old Zu-Zu with, “Not a smidge of temperature.” Although Kareem Bandealy is no Jimmy Stewart, his George Bailey gives a complex range of emotions of a dream seeker -small town hero- suicidal- “richest man in Bedford Falls.” Under the well-paced direction of Gerace, the multi-talented cast energetically lassoes the moon.

For a radio play performed as a stage play, the foley artist (the person who creates many of the natural, everyday sound effects for a live radio show) always adds an interesting element of sound production. With this show, this doesn’t seem to be occur. The foley artist (Rick Kubes) is set up on the side of the stage with various tools and techniques to add the sounds to the radio broadcast. Plunging in the river, clattering dishes, blizzard winds – these radio elements are not completely audibly realized. Kubes needs to crank up the volume! And speaking of audio, preshow, the audience is given an opportunity to write audiograms. During radio commercial breaks, the audiograms are delivered by the cast. Holiday greetings are mixed with requests for parking money as the messages are broadcasted to and from audience members. It’s a nice personal holiday touch and cheaper than buying cards.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

November 30, 2009 | 2 Comments More

Review: Porchlight’s “Miracle on 34th Street”

A Retro Christmas Miracle

 

Porchlight Music Theatre presents:

Miracle on 34th Street

Adapted by Patricia DiBenedetto Snyder, Sill Severin and John Vreeke

Story by Valentine Davies
Screenplay by George Seaton
directed by
L. Walter Stearns
thru January 3rd, 2010 (ticket info)

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

MIRACLE ON 34th STREET--Santa and Susan I have to admit to a bit of “Scrooge-ism” when it comes to the holiday season in America. The commercials, the billboards, the store windows dressed in fiberglass snow and plaid carolers when I am still finishing Halloween candy stuffed in the bottom desk drawer- you get the idea. I managed to get into the spirit in spite of myself. I got a visit from a little angel in the form of my niece Alexandria. She is a very precocious seven years old who likes spiders. Porchlight Theatre’s publicity for Miracle on 34th Street stated that this was the perfect first theater experience for children and would become a holiday tradition. I am happy to say that the publicity was right.

This production of Miracle on 34th Street is from the Porchlight Music Theatre Company. They are known for classic productions as well as new interpretations of musicals. This is already a classic film and now it has been excellently translated to the stage. The moment that Kris Kringle’s sleigh appears on the stage is when the magic begins. A veritable toyland pops out of Santa’s big red sack and performs to start the play. We are then told that this Santa is a lucky replacement for the other guy who showed up drunk. The twist is that this Santa believes that he is the real thing. It is a tale that we all know from afternoons around the television or at the repertory movie house.

Christa Buck plays the cynical 1940’s career woman Doris Walker. She is all business and doesn’t have time for the fantasy that is Christmas. She also has little patience for the complications of romance that shows up in the form of Fred Gailey played by Karl Hamilton. They both seem to have stepped out of a Technicolor production. The entire cast is a step back in time and that is perfect for this production. The cynicism of Doris Walker and her daughter Susan is born out of divorce and abandonment issues. That is my modern interpretation but the portrayals are embodied with the post-war innocence of the 1940’s. Somehow everything works out in America if you only believe. It’s a beautiful idea whose time is coming around again. The part of Susan Walker is played by Laney Kraus-Taddeo. She is another talented product of the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston. Ms. Kraus-Taddeo doesn’t hit any false notes or project any of the treacle that is the risk of any child actors. All of the children in this production are a delight to watch. The play makes room for a child in the audience to talk to Santa on stage. It was a funny moment with an untrained participant who asked for Christmas lipstick. Your guess is as good as mine as to what that is but Jim Sherman as Kris Kringle played right along with jolly humor.

I have to say that it was the performance of Jim Sherman that really put me in the Christmas spirit. He has the sparkle and the charm that – for me – embody Santa Claus. He wears a suit that is more in the tradition of Father Christmas or Sinter Klass from the Netherlands. Even when he was clad in layperson’s attire he looked like Santa. I also enjoyed the character of Mr. Macy played by Chuck Sisson. I’m a girl who grew up on Mr. Drysdale, Mr. Mooney, and Thurston Howell III. There is a certain carriage and technique to carrying off the bluster of such a character in my opinion and Mr. Sisson has it much to my enjoyment.

The entire cast is a joy to watch in Miracle on 34th Street. The supporting villain character of Mr. Sawyer is played with relish by Rus Rainear. Like the movie, Mr. Sawyer is a ferret-like guy who almost kills Christmas while in cahoots with the ambitious District Attorney played by Steve Tomlitz.

Suspense! Romance! Knee Slapping Laughs! It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Most importantly, it passed the “Alexandria Test”. My niece Alexandria was enchanted the moment the action began. That is saying something considering that we had been to Uncle Fun and bought a “can of salted nuts” which contained three fake snakes. Lexie was all about the snakes until Kris Kringle and the music began. She also got to take a picture with Santa on the stage after the play that was a big thrill. “Auntie Kathy! I got to see Santa Claus and be on the stage!”

You have to bring your own camera and resist the urge to want to sit on Jim Sherman’s lap yourself. I’m telling you, the guy took me back to 1965 when I really believed.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

November 28, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Review: Redmoon’s “Winter Pageant”

‘Winter Pageant’ reprises White House performances

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Redmoon Theater presents

Winter Pageant

By Vanessa Stalling, Frank Maugeri and Jim Lasko
Directed by
Vanessa Stalling
Through December 27th (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

pageant-swining Fresh from its triumphant Halloween performance at the White House, Redmoon Theater stages its nearly annual, alternative take on a family holiday show, Winter Pageant.

The theme of these shows over their 15-year history is always the same: Each unique pageant showcases the progression of the seasons and celebrates the return of spring — in always charming and often magical ways. The production avoids religion, hackneyed classics and Christmas commercialism and, as Artistic Director Frank Maugeri puts it, engineers "a journey that explores nature, humanity, ritual, storytelling…."

This year, perhaps because the production reprises performance elements from the troupe’s White House spectacle, much of the storytelling seems to have been lost. Instead, we have a disjointed, hour-long series of vignettes and technical wizardry. Plots have never been the strong point of these pageants, I grant you, yet usually there’s been a tale of sorts to carry the audience along.

Not only did I miss that, it became clear from the restlessness of the young audience that the kids did, too. Not that there aren’t plenty of wondrous sights for children. As the show opened and a young woman played with a toy car, I saw a father struggling to restrain his squirming 2-year-old, who wanted mightily to get in on the action.

The toy morphs into a marvelous full-sized car full of characters and cakes and a monstrous, goodie-stealing baby. Then we have a mechanical surrey with a flower garden and a bug-eating gardener on top — evidently representing summer.

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Judging by the colors and timing, next come autumnal rains and a marvelous underwater sequence that had the kids charging out of their seats. We also get some absurd pirates and wonderful illuminated hat puppets representing migrating swans. A bountiful banquet becomes a food fight. Winter, a dark and chilly sequence of crooked doll houses and shadow puppetry, follows. Spring explodes in drumming and tulips, but nevertheless seems anticlimactic.

Redmoon’s artistry is wonderful throughout, but this year’s pageant is perhaps best seen as a showcase of performance art, a series of artful spectacles, rather than a winter’s tale.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

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Note: Free parking at the theater and in a lot across the street.

Ensemble: Missi Davis, Nick Demeris, Sarah Fornace, Alexander Knapp, Matt Rudy, Eric Swanson and Dustin Valenta

November 28, 2009 | 1 Comment More

Review: “A Very Merry Children’s Scientology Pageant”

Red Orchid Lets Religious Absurdity Loose

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A Red Orchid Theatre presents:

A Very Merry Children’s Scientology Pageant

By Kyle Jarrow from a concept by Alex Timbers
Directed by Steve Wilson
Music Direction by Brandon Magid
thru January 3, 2010 (ticket info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Szalai-Raymond, V It’s only November, but if you are already tired of virgin births, wise men led by stars, angels singing to shepherds or animals talking in mangers, then A Red Orchid Theatre’s remount of A Very Merry Children’s Scientology Pageant just might be the cure for what ails you. Based upon the self-promoted achievements of L. Ron Hubbard, the pageant explores one man’s search for the answers to life’s most important questions and his creation of the religion Scientology.

That children enact this story is the stroke of genius that A Red Orchid Theatre can pat itself on the back over for years to come. The pageant has quickly morphed into Chicago’s brand new holiday favorite–what with Next Theatre opening its production in two weeks. Will Chicago survive dueling Scientology pageants? Will these theaters survive an onslaught from Scientology’s lawyers? Is this a sign of the Apocalypse?

I hardly know which is scarier–Scientology, the story of the creation of Scientology, or the amount of talent these kids possess. Director Steve Wilson has one tight group of young actors at his disposal. They rock the house with angelic paeans to L. Ron Hubbard, slow-motion battle scenes, hilarious E-meter demonstrations, and fabulous portrayal of the sinister galactic overlord, Xenu. One actor even looks like a pre-teen Tom Cruise—now that’s scary.

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In a classic moment of paranoia, I considered whether this satire could actually be a vehicle promoting Scientology. For L. Ron, all paths for spiritual growth sooner or later lead to Hawaii. And why not? All the same, other than blasting away your engrams or your Thetans, Scientology still doesn’t have answers for who we are or what life’s purpose is all about. But in the midst of the joy of the Scientology pageant, we really don’t care.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

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A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant features A Red Orchid Theatre Youth Ensemble members Chaz Allen, Najwa Brown, Jaiden Fallo, Paola Lehman, Adam Rebora, Kara Ryan, Elenna Sindler and Aria Szalai-Raymond; as well as newcomers Elita Ernsteen, Katherine Jordan, and Alex Turner.

Photo Credits: Michael Brosilow

November 28, 2009 | 1 Comment More

Spend New Years Eve with Neo-Futurists

new-years-toastToo Much Light” New Year’s Eve

On Thursday, December 31, doors open at The Neo-Futurarium at 9:30 p.m. for non-alcoholic refreshments and hors d’oeuvres provided by Whole Foods Market Sauganash. A performance of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, created by Greg Allen, begins promptly at 11:00 p.m. (no admittance after 11:00 p.m.) The performance ends at 12 midnight with a New Year’s toast and The Neo-Futurists’ signature pizza. Admission is $40. Advance tickets are required and available online at www.neofuturists.org. Although “Too Much Light” New Year’s Eve is an all-ages show, it is not appropriate for children.

  • Thursday, December 31, 2009
  • Doors open at 9:30 p.m. for non-alcoholic refreshments and hors d’oeuvres provided by Whole Foods Market Sauganash
  • All-ages performance of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind begins at 11:00 p.m. sharp — no admittance after 11:00 p.m.
  • New Years’ Toast and pizza at midnight

ADVANCE TICKETS REQUIRED ($40): www.neofuturists.org

For more information, call 773-275-5255

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November 22, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Review: Circle Theatre’s “Little Women”

Holidays with the March Sisters

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Circle Theatre presents:

Little Women

adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott
directed by Bob Kuth
thru December 19th (ticket info)

review by Timothy McGuire

The women of Little Women_1 Circle Theatre offers another quality production of classic literature with their world premiere adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. This story is perfect for the holiday season and entertaining anytime of the year. The unselfish themes of giving and love along with warm naturally occurring musicals scenes create a performance that can be enjoyed by the whole family, as well as those other singles out there.

Circle Theatre’s production of Little Women is only based on part one of the series (so no, Beth does not die,) but it is still packed with plenty of drama and conflict to accompany the vibrant personalities of the March sisters. The four sisters are spiritually played by Laura McClain (Meg), Kieran Welsh-Phillips (Jo), Jill Sesso (Beth) and Abigail St. John (Amy.) They playfully tease but overwhelmingly cherish each others company. With their father away serving as Chaplain in the Civil War and their mother doing everything she can to support her husband and country, the four sisters bond together as they grow into their own individuals. The March Family is financially struggling (something many of us can relate to this holiday season) yet still finds ways to constantly support those around them in need and those they want to show they care. Besides the wealthy Aunt March, the whole family is inspired by the closeness between them, and their kind spirit is an inspiration to those that witness them as well.

The cast of Little Women_1The set is designed far more sophisticated than you see at even most of the best storefront theatres in the city. Bob Kuth (Director/ Scenic & Lighting Designer) has created the inside of the March home in Maine warm and delicately decorated for the winter season. The windows are covered in 19th-century drapes and a faded portrait of Mr. March hangs above the fireplace. In the back corner is the simple piano played by Beth to lighten the family’s mood and bring in some holiday cheer and the living room is complete with antique furniture for the family to join together for gossip and companionship. The staircase in back of the stage and second level leading to the door add depth to the large country house, and the performer’s ability to look beyond the audience and through the windows at a scene fictionally taking place off stage turn the small staging area into the open lands of Concord, MA.

Each actress and actor brings a special individuality to their character. The enduring qualities in each sister are brought out by the talented natural performances of each actress. I fell in love with Jo and her rebellious attitude and drive to go after he own desires. Each individual performance in the play strengthens the connection you feel with the relationships that are being formed. Watching this family evolve and connect with their characters can naturally bring out a loving emotional connection to your own family, and that is what the holidays are all about.

Rating: ★★★

 

At Circle Theatre, 7300 W. Madison, Forest Park, IL, call   708-771-0700, www.circle-theatre.org, tickets $20 – $24 ($2 off for seniors/students), Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.

FEATURING: Kevin Anderson • Peter Esposito • Eileen Ferguson • Anita Hoffman • Laura McClainJeremy MyersBrian Rabinowitz • Mary Redmon • Jill Sesso • Abigail St. John •  Kieran Welsh-Phillips.

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November 20, 2009 | 0 Comments More

Review: “Carpenter’s Halloween” at Mary’s Attic

Definitely a treat!

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The Scooty & Jojo Show presents:

Carpenters Halloween

created by Scott Bradley and Jonny Stax
directed by Scott Bradley
music-directed by Brent Moore
thru November 7th (buy tickets)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

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Light their way when the darkness surrounds them…

Is this the beginning narration of a story about a beast or a line from a 1970’s pop song? In Carpenter’s Halloween Scott Bradley and Jonny Stax re-imagine John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween movie as a musical. The Scooty & Jojo Show’s production uses the lyrics of Karen and Richard Carpenter to tell the tale of Michael Myer’s psycho ward escape and killing-spree homecoming. The results? Carpenter’s Halloween is a hilarious slasher reproduction.

a kind of hush all over the world tonight”

Performed at Mary’s Attic, the show starts with and uses film footage projected on televisions to illustrate Michael Myer’s childhood transformation into psycho killer.  The multi-talented cast, cardboard cars, live band and puppets transport you back to the familiar cult classic. The fear factor is gone as the campy show pokes fun of the movie’s scary elements 30+ year ago that, in hindsight, seem ridiculous.

“We’ve only just begun….”

Some of the best moments are new lines on the familiar script; “he always looks like that. He’s a puppet.” And “would Karen Carpenter have a second bowl of popcorn?”  Leading the laughter is the stand out performance of Scott Bradley as Laurie Strode. Playing up the Laurie’s “Solitaire’s the only game in town loneliness,” Bradley hilariously mimics Jamie Lee Curtis’ memorable performance. One of many giggle-fests occurs when Lindsey (Ryan Guhde) and Tommy (Libby Lane) re-interpret the phrase “go upstairs and change your clothes.” Baby, baby, baby, aw baby I love Carpenter’s Halloween I really do!

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Examples of comments heard from audience members include – Steve:  Muppets meet Python; Tom: campy, funny, songy; Shawn: scream queen lives; Scott: song slash dance; Jen: well-delivered, witty, wicked; Paul: camp built well; and James: Karen would approve!

Rating: «««

October 18, 2009 | 2 Comments More