BY JEFF LEVENE
There’s a fine line between predictable and timeless, endearing and overstaying, and funny and obnoxious, but when it comes to sketch comedy these lines usually shine brighter than the stripe on a candy cane. Yet somehow, Centre Stage’s holiday sketch and variety show Laughing All the Way manages to bring some great holiday fun despite some writing that feels like trudging through a heap of January snow.
At its best Laughing All the Way delivers hilarious moments in SNL style sketches and some absolutely gorgeous musical performances helmed by Mary Evan Giles, whose music direction has orchestrated the show’s strongest moments.
Anne Morgan, Mary Giles, and Melinda Wilson bring gorgeous harmonies in an endearing, all too real, rendition of Hard Candy Christmas as well as a beautiful Bethlehem medley.
For sketches, a crowd favorite was an Elf on the Shelf turned horror film gag, in which siblings Shaw Shurley and Sarah Powell offer a true to life sibling relationship as they do battle with Morgan’s hilariously eerie “Chucky” of an elf.
Cindy Mixon is perfect in multiple roles, from a gossipy North Pole TV Host, to a lonely redneck sick of her fiance’s lack of Christmas spirit.
And as always Brian Reeder steals every scene he’s in. In one scene he leads trio of guys in a Village People parody praising Amazon Shopping as a holiday godsend. In another he’s the proper and disgruntled Mountie taking a stand against reindeer droppings. And offers a beautifully emotional moment where he describes his own Christmas traditions with his daughter.
Sadly some of the show’s own ambitions undermine a number of scenes that if cut down could’ve been more amusing. An NPR polar addition gag becomes redundant by its 15th minute.
Perhaps the strangest dichotomy in the show is its comedic hosts, who are played with plenty of old school schtick and chutzpah by JJ Peterson and Rod McClendon. But even as they both playfully engage with the audience and each other, the script is so bogged with obvious and familiar jokes that it doesn’t bring any uniqueness to help the two transcend to mimic immortal duos like Abbot and Costello, or the Car Talk’s Magliozzi brothers duo they’re so clearly based on.
When Laughing All the Way hits its marks it leads to some gut busting laughs or some moving musical movements. And like any good sketch show, so much of this success is owed entirely to the effort of a talented cast. If you’re looking for some great holiday fun, this cast’s effort to help an ambitious show land more often than it should, is reason enough to leave you laughing through at least most of the way.
Laughing All the Way continues through Dec. 22. Get your tickets at http://www.centrestage.org.