As the Christmas season fast approaches, one cannot help but cringe at the inevitable onslaught of typical holiday productions. Buried neck-deep in Yuletide cheer, it's nearly impossible to muster enthusiasm for yet another production of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Are audiences supposed to coo again and feel warm all over when old Scrooge finally comes around and dances a jig in Bob Cratchit's kitchen on Christmas morning? What, is Tiny Tim not crippled this time? For many holiday theater-goers, it all becomes a bit redundant.Fortunately, the Federal Theatre has just the remedy. A Christmas Twist, which opens tonight and runs through December 28, is a welcome change in the old, familiar lineup. Written by Chicago comedy troupe the Illegitimate Players, the story is an alloy of Dickens's Carol and Oliver Twist -- "with plenty of other references to enormously overdone plays thrown in there, as well," comments assistant director Katie Benfield.
The show is being presented for the first time in Colorado by the Industrial Arts Theatre Company -- the same group responsible for the Federal's recent renovation. It's directed by Industrial regular Roger Winn, with a cast culled from various local production companies.
While Benfield is hesitant to give away too many of the play's innovations, she does reveal that one of the main characters is named Tiny Twist, a hybrid of Tiny Tim's and Oliver Twist's DNA strands, and that the character of the Artful Dodger has been changed to Artful Annie. Scrooge is purported to make a rather interesting appearance, too.
The spoof, Benfield notes, is "done in a real cinematic way, similar to the Scary Movie films. It's a great holiday show for family and friends. Everyone will leave the theater dissecting the various references from the show. And it still retains its Christmas charm."
For anyone suffering from a Nutcracker hangover, A Christmas Twist sounds like a much-needed holiday pick-me-up. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for students and seniors, and $12 per person for group admissions. The Federal Theatre is at 3830 Federal Boulevard; for details, call 303-399-4662. -- Adam Cayton-Holland
Rattlebrain shakes up the season
Eat your heart out, Ebenezer: Rattlebrain Theater Company is bringing back its sick and twisted take on the holiday season with Santa's Big Red Sack -- Reloaded. "I'd say that, overall, we're pretty inappropriate," affirms cast member Jane Shirley. "It's certainly irreverent."
Santa's Big Red Sack -- Reloaded, which features four new comedy sketches, also reprises ten favorites from last year's show, Santa's Big Red Sack.
In a "A Very NRA Christmas," a choir dressed in camouflage robes sings some of Charlton Heston's favorite Christmas songs, including "Shotgun Shells" to the tune of "Jingle Bells." "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" portrays carolers bestowing gifts on passersby, including $20 and a condom to a guy trying to hire a hooker, and a disposable lighter to a man having problems firing up his crack pipe. And "Merry Hanukkah" features a clueless Christian couple trying to celebrate the season with their Jewish neighbor. "They're this dweeby white couple that are completely oblivious to what it means to be Jewish," explains director Dave Shirley.
Santa's Big Red Sack -- Reloaded opens tonight with performances at 7 and 9:30 p.m. and runs Tuesdays through Sundays through December 28. Tickets, $22 to $32, are available at 720-932-7384. The Rattlebrain Theater is at 1601 Arapahoe Street. For details, visit www.rattlebraintheater.com. -- Julie Dunn
Celtic Music Flows
The Boulder Theater flings open its doors tonight to let in a warming breeze with the return of Winter Talisman: A Night of Celtic Music. The holiday offering is making its first appearance in Boulder after enjoying sold-out shows in Loveland and Denver over the past few years. Though this year's venue is bigger than the previous sites, promoter Pat McCullough promises that the program will be as intimate as ever."It's not just a night of brilliant music; it's a night of endearing brogues from Scotland and Ireland, a night of poems, stories and banter," McCullough says.
The evening brings together three musicians united by a mutual appreciation of their Celtic ancestry: Johnny Cunningham, generally regarded as the best Scottish fiddler around; guitarist and Celtic drummer Susan McKeown; and guitarist Aiden Brennan, who has performed with the Chieftains. All three sing, but McKeown is the most accomplished vocalist.
"When she lets it out, she can rip the paint off the walls," McCullough says.
The fun starts at 8 p.m. at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street. Tickets are $15 to $20; call 303-786-7030 or go to www.bouldertheater.com. -- Adam Cayton-Holland
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Sorta Like a Virgin
Spoofing on the Material world
Tina Tomisicio wants religion to kick ass. To that end, she founded the Church of the Madonna Worshippers United -- aka the MAD WUs -- to lay spiritual praise on pop music's notorious diva, the inspiration for Tina Tomisicio, the Unlikely Activist.The new one-woman satirical show by Denise Barnes, a licensed therapist and former member of Boulder's Vox Feminista theater group, is an adult-themed strange brew of "sex, religion and political spoofs" backed by Material Girl beats. "It's comic relief for progressives," Barnes explains. "Tina proves that even the lowest of life forms can evolve -- which is comforting when you take a look at our current government."
The Unlikely Activist enlists audience participation throughout, and Barnes encourages everyone to get into the groove by attending in their "best" Madonna garb -- just like Tina. "I usually create characters and then let them go," says Barnes. "People aren't letting me retire her; I'm a slave to Tina now."
Tina Tomisicio, the Unlikely Activist will play at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, at 2 p.m. today; tickets are $10 at the door. Call 303-277-8281 for details. -- Kity Ironton