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Another hilarious Troubie holiday show at The Falcon Theatre with The Last Jo-el

Posted By Karen Young On December 14, 2010 @ 12:23 am In Arts & Culture,Featured,My Daily Find,Theater | No Comments

BY TOM WALDMAN

Hearing Piano Man recently, it occurred to me that there were times when Billy Joel could have used his own Bernie Taupin. The songs banal lyrics, as well as those of Joel standards like We Didn’t Start the Fire and It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me, are a weak companion to the melody, rhythm, and musicianship.

'Nicholas' (Jack McGee) and the 'Angels' (Katherine Malak, Jackie Seiden and Christine Lakin) in Troubadour Theater Company's The First Jo-el at the Falcon Theatre. Photos by Chelsea Sutton.

But no such gap exists in the Troubadour Theatre Company’s production of The First Jo-el at the Falcon Theatre, a reinterpretation of the Christmas Story that employs nearly all of the songwriters hits from the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s. The groups perpetually witty and often  hilarious rewriting of the words blends well with the music. Seeing this show might forever change how you think of Billy Joel and Christmas.

Before arriving at the end (spoiler alert; Jesus is born to Mary, and God appears to be the father) much of the plot revolves around the pending birth of a child to Letty (Katie Nunez) and her companion, Manolo (Matt Morgan). His parents, Nicholas (Jack McGee) and Greta (Lisa Valenzuela) are a lusty middle-aged couple, proprietors of the Bethlehem Inn, and eager for an addition to the family.

'Myr' (Brandon Breault), 'Frankenstein' (Morgan Rusler) and 'Gold' (Matt Walker) .

Like the bar in Cheers, the Inn is the central meeting place for all the characters, including those with whom the audience will already be familiar. The Three Wise Men (Brandon Breault, Morgan Rusler, and Matt Walker) move rather more slowly physically and mentally than their title would suggest, while enough time has elapsed since the actual events that the same Morgan Rusler can get away with playing the murderous King Herod as a charming rogue. The story is enhanced by the frequent and always welcome appearance of three sexy angels (Christine Lakin, Katherine Malak, and Jackie Seiden), whose flashy routines rank among the evenings best.

'King Herod' (Morgan Rusler) and 'Virginia' (Beth Kennedy).

Malak is also cast in the role of Mary, who only enters the story at the end of Act One. The second act, which opens with a marvelous cover of Joels Fire from two of the angels, neatly parallels the comic anxieties of the pregnant women, both of whom will eventually give birth to healthy sons. And while it may not please the American Medical Association, neither Mary nor Letty let pregnancy prevent them from participating in some dynamic dance numbers.

Not all of The First Jo-el involves singing and dancing. The spoken interludes consist of many jokes, some of them deliberately awful, sight gags, the most memorable involving a massive Hershey Bar, and a sprinkling of pop culture references, including kudos to McGee for playing the father in the current film The Fighter.

Other than a drawn-out scene involving the real Winter Warlock and an impostor, the two-hour production never lagged. With The First Jo-el, Director Matt Walker and Choreographer Molly Alvarez have done a masterful job of transforming the music of Billy Joel into a good-spirited and surprisingly affirmative Christmas story. Along with the uniformly excellent cast, they have found just the right balance between reverence and irreverence, chaos and coherence.

The First Jo-el runs Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. through January 16th. Tickets can be purchased by calling 818-955-8101 or online at FalconTheatre.com. The Falcon Theatre is located in Burbank at 4252 Riverside Drive.

Tom Waldman is co-author of “Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock and Roll From Southern California”, which had its second printing in 2009, and author of “the Best Guide to American Politics, “We All Want to Change the World: Rock and Politics From Elvis to Eminem” and “Not Much Left: The Decline of Liberalism in America”. He currently serves as chief of staff to LAUSD Board Member Tamar Galatzan.

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