The cast of MILKING CHRISTMAS. Photo by LGEmerick Photography.
By Jason Epperson
One of the interesting things about being a theater critic is that you, at times, end up going to shows that you have absolutely no idea what they will be about. If you’re a theatergoing individual, you probably spend some time reading about the plot, checking out production images, hear about it from a friend, or perhaps even read a review. I didn’t know what I was getting into with The Living Room’s production of MILKING CHRISTMAS, and frankly, the title had me making a dozen jokes about going to watch cows getting miked at Christmastime before heading out to the theater.
Honestly I thought it may either be A) a hallmark channel-style middle-age Christmas love story set in a small town named “Milking” that closely resembles The Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow, or B) would be some sort of parody of Christmas shows in which the authors skewer the commercialization — or “milking” — of Christmas for profit. To my udder surprise, MILKING CHRISTMAS is literally about a milkmaid who works at the North Pole, including a big production number surrounding milking a cow for Santa…
…and it’s a non-stop laugh riot.
Ben Auxier, Brian Huther, Seth Macchi (collectively Friend Dog Studios) and Ryan McCall have penned a clever new hero-saves-Christmas tale with sharp original music, caustic humor, and a wholly original plot. Amongst the day-to-day life in Christmastown, elves build toys, coal miners dig for naughty-list gifts, and Macey – one of the eight maids feeding Santa’s need for milk – notices a few things that seem out of place. She embarks on a quest to get to the bottom of it. Along the way she meets Chris Claus (Seth Macchi), the reluctant emo Santa to be, and a rag-tag bunch of Christmas misfits – a candy cane that nobody ever bothered to eat, an overly crisp gingerbread man, a Christmas mole, and a thick-headed coal miner.
Elise Poehling gives Macey a well-rounded sensibility, a true Christmas hero. But the standouts in the cast are the comedic players who take on several roles, particularly Nellie Maple, Mike Ott, and Ben Auxier, who turn in guffaw-inducing performances.
The whole thing has a sensibility akin to movies like Shrek, where different types of fairy-tale creatures intermingled with humans participate in a truly sweet and satisfying storyline while somehow piling joke after joke on top of the next. In fact, MILKING CHRISTMAS could very easily be turned into an evergreen holiday hit film and fit in very well with the likes of Frosty, The Peanuts, and Rudolf. Smartly, the authors avoid any attempt to parody those classics (aside from a few funny nods), and any urge to go blue. The ending can be seen from a mile away, but it’s also surprisingly the first time I’ve ever seen this particular turn happen in the Santa mythology.
There is one glaring hole in director Missy Koonce’s production. MILKING CHRISTMAS’s cast of 11 is about as white as it’s titular liquid, made only more obvious by a painted cut-out of townspeople who are more diverse than the live actors on the stage. This is is a show that should truly be for everyone, were it to be performed by a cast that makes more people feel included.
Judging by the audience reaction, MILKING CHRISTMAS should become an annual holiday tradition, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a favorite in cities across the country. I hope next year The Living Room takes the steps to diversify the cast, in order to deliver a tradition all KC residents can enjoy.