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Steel Poinsettias spices up the holidays at Rivertown Theaters

Ricky Graham and Varla Jean Merman star in holiday comedy



Santa Claus' annual midnight journey to leave gifts for children around the globe seems like a wonderful act of generosity. But if all those kids aren't really other people's children, Santa sneaking around at night is a different story.

  "Santa's baby, you're wondering who the mother might be ..." sings the cast of Steel Poinsettias in an altered version of the holiday classic by Eartha Kitt.

  A mashup of holiday stories concocted by Ricky Graham, Varla Jean Merman and company, Steel Poinsettias runs at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts Dec. 2-18. It's a decidedly adult affair and gratuitously irreverent.

  Mrs. Sandy Claus (Brooklyn Shaffer) is convinced plenty of people have seen mommy kissing Santa Claus — and maybe a whole lot more. But she's also glad to have him out of the house, though she spends much of her time at her hair salon, Kringle Kuts and Kurls. She's especially busy during the holiday season, as her regulars drop in to get their hair Jack Frosted. (The higher the hair, the closer one is to God, notes one elf.)

  Ricky Graham stars as Cherie Snowman, the daiquiri-swilling wife of Frosty. Varla Jean Merman (aka Jeffrey Roberson) plays Mrs. Scratchit, a vain, flighty, attention-stealing stage mom, whose husband is broke and son Tiny Tim is deathly ill. Both have stopped by the Kringle salon, where they meet Claus' newest employee, Herbelle the Elf (Michael Sullivan). Herbelle is based on the misunderstood elf from the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He didn't want to make toys in Santa's workshop. He aspired to a career in dentistry. In Steel Poinsettias, dentistry wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Herbelle suffered from "low elf esteem" and "elf-inflicted" problems, so he switched to cosmetology.

  The salon buzzes with rapid-fire banter, tawdry gossip, horrible puns, caustic asides, raunchy innuendo and parodies of Christmas carols, accompanied on piano by Jefferson Turner as Rudy. Everyone is in good cheer until Wheezy Grincheaux (Sean Patterson) arrives in a sour mood, desperately in need of Claus' talents. As if her reception wasn't clear, the cast breaks into the tune "You're not a lean one, Wheezy G ...," chronicling her unappealing personality and features.

  Grincheaux has a cold, shrunken heart, and no one and nothing is spared her party-killing barbs.

  "Theater is stupid, overpriced and there's no place to put your drink," she barks, ostensibly to tame Scratchit's dreams.

  Steel Poinsettias reunites the cast of Ditzyland, a compilation of outrageous parodies of Disney princesses and heroes and popular songs. Graham, Roberson, Patterson and Turner created Ditzyland for last New Year's Eve, and have reprised it several times in the past year. Ditzyland was a break from the annual cross-dressing parody Scrooge in Rouge, created by Graham and veterans from musical shows and revues at Le Chat Noir. Now they're back to roasting the holiday season's sacred cows and traditions.

  Steel Poinsettias adds Sullivan and Shaffer, who starred as Gladys Finkelstein in Running With Scissors' serialized holiday show, Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas, a lowbrow romp through holiday traditions at the Everlasting Arms Motor Court. Like Grenadine, Steel Poinsettias has its own version of "We Need a Little Christmas."

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