Producer Ronnie Marmo and Theatre 68 are currently presenting the West Coast Premiere of Neil Haven’s Who Killed Santa? at NoHo Arts Center. The show is billed as “The Choose-Your-Own-Ending Musical Murder Mystery Holiday Whodunit.” Whydoit would be a better question. This show will never replace the standard holiday fare of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or any Agatha Christie mystery or spoof. There are a few gems to be found in Haven’s rambling script but they are too few to warrant the nearly two hour running time. He has also re-written the lyrics to classic holiday songs such as “Frosty the Snowman,” “Little Drummer Boy” and “Santa Claus is Coming” to fit the occasion.
Marissa Fennell as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rebecca Rose Phillips as Chastity The Little Drummer Girl, Jotape Lockwood as Steve The Little Drummer Boy, Katie Zeiner as Tiny Tim.
Santa is having his annual Christmas party for other Christmas characters—Frosty the Snowman, Steve, the Little Drummer Boy, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Tiny Tim, and a late addition, Chastity, the chesty Little Drummer Girl. The elves are not invited and are picketing the party, yelling anti-Santa epithets and singing protest songs. Mrs. Claus is vacationing in India. The guests all seem to have a grudge against Santa so it’s no big surprise when he has a candy cane shoved into his back. A bumbling North Pole police detective arrives and ineptly questions the suspects but soon ends up with his head bashed in and is followed in the stack of corpses by the Tooth Fairy who has been trying to crash the party.
Instead of having the entire audience polled as to the identity of the evening’s murderer as in Drood, only three people are chosen and their deliberations as judge and jury just lengthen the evening’s tedium. Marmo’s lackadaisical and clunky direction doesn’t help matters but it would be difficult for any director to make Haven’s script really fly.
Frosty The Snowman played by Peter Osterweil and Jonathan Berenson
The cast, performing with hand puppets, trudges on to the finale and their charm is the show’s best asset. Jonathan Berenson as Frosty and Peter Osterweil as Frosty’s Right Arm land most of their zingers just like a well-aimed snowball. Jotape Lockwood as the grown up Drummer Boy (a nice touch having him out on auditions to join a rock band) fares the best throughout. Marissa Fennell’s Rudolph sounds like he has a head cold but it may just be his red nose is plugged from all the booze he consumes. Rebecca Rose Phillips brings a zesty innocence to her sexy Chastity and her simulated sex scene with Tiny Tim (a bland Katie Zeiner) is a highlight. The weakest link in the cast is the man without a puppet on his hand. Thomas F. Evans comes across extremely amateurish not once but four times as he attempts to portray Santa, the Detective, the Tooth Fairy and Mrs. Claus. Danny Cistone designed the appropriately holiday decorated set.
Theatre 68 @ NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. Ends Jan. 2. www.plays411.com/santa