The Column Online



Written by Jeff Swearingen

The Basement

Directed by Jeff Swearingen

CAST/ Characters:

Santa Claus - Changes with each performance and includes Jeff Swearingen, Elias
Taylorson, Sean Salisbury, John Garcia, Judge John Roach, Jr., Shane Beeson, Blork from Matt Lyle's Hello Human Female, and Mark Lowry

Santa's Reindeers
Ronald Reagan - James Chandler
Dan Quayle
Drago (From Rocky IV)
Tim McGraw
Officers from the USSR Ministry of Defense
Officers from the U.S. Military
Russian Orphans
Single Mother
Various office workers, store clerks, bar patrons
Margaret Thatcher

Reviewed Performance: 12/10/2012

Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The Ultimate Holiday Experience, currently playing at Plano's Children's Theatre, is back for another successful Christmas run. This show was a huge hit last year, and judging by the audience response last night to the witty lines, comedic presence and overall good acting by the actors who are mostly children, the show is sure to be another huge hit this year.

Swearingen and the cast of characters take the audience on a delightful and often hilarious romp through events during one Christmas that involves a misplaced Santa, well-known political figures of the 1980's, nuclear threat, enthusiastic office and store clerks, Russian orphans, Soviet soldiers (that might or might not want to defect), very involved reindeer, overzealous U.S. missile command soldiers, super-action hero and anti-heroes. With well-written and delivered dialogue and very good comedic timing, this adventure brings a whole new meaning of Christmas to life.

The show is performed in an intimate performing space where seating is limited and cozy. The stage is painted in holiday colors that work extremely well, creating a festive spirit and lively atmosphere for the show.

Costuming, makeup and specific character choices by the actors and director all play an important role in this production. Each of the actors on stage has a unique look and style that easily fits with the story line and character being portrayed. In some cases, the costume choices are also made for added visual humor, such as with the reindeer, the soldiers, Drago, Baroness, Dan Quayle and Ronald Reagan.

With the notable exceptions of Ronald Reagan and Santa Claus, each of the actors onstage are children ranging in age from about seven years old to mid-late teens. Despite the relatively young ages, these actors are very impressive in their character development, focus on stage and on the story and with their well-developed pacing and comedy that is used to keep the audience laughing out loud through almost all of the show.

Each actor playing a reindeer has antler head pieces and makeup that makes each look absolutely adorable and easily identifiable as one of Santa's. Yet they also have costuming touches that make each reindeer a unique individual, such as Rudolph's red nose and Prancer's noticeable scarf. The young actors playing the reindeer also have well-developed character personalities that work so well together, you may think they have been performing together for years.

The U.S. and Soviet soldiers are dressed in military style, or a parody of the stereotypical military style, adding visual humor that plays well with a script that includes a copious amount of tongue in cheek dialogue and spot on comedic timing. It's just the right balance of elements from films like Dr. Strangelove, War Games, Abbott and Costello or The Three Stooges, all in the same show. This play will have you laughing and learning about the nuclear arms race and detente without realizing that you are learning. It is that fun!

Baroness's costume, vocal and physical characteristics will remind you of Natasha Fatale from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. When this character came on stage, I expected to see Boris Badenov close behind her!

It seems that the actor playing Dan Quayle must have studied the former Vice President diligently as he has mannerisms, gestures, vocal cadence and other "Quaylisms" mastered so well that I was reminded of the real interviews that I had seen of VP Quayle. This is especially reinforced in Dan Quayle's last monologue in the show in which the audience is treated to Quaylism after Quaylism.

Through artful character portrayal, well-defined mannerisms and a very believable vocal imitation of the former President, Chandler presents a Ronald Reagan that effortlessly brings together the homespun humor, tough guy persona and diehard conservative Republican ideals that we all know and remember about Reagan. This portrayal could well be delivered in a standup comedy routine on its own.

Each performance features a different actor or local celebrity playing the Santa Claus role, which will bring a different dynamic to that performance. Jeff Swearingen, the writer and director of The Ultimate Holiday Experience, performed the role of Santa the evening I was at the production. It is usually very difficult to successfully direct and also perform in the same show but Swearingen successfully accomplished both very well. His delivery of Santa Claus in the scene with President Reagan was performed with the right balance of humor, caring and chastisement as he tries to keep President Reagan off of The Naughty List. Swearingen set the standard for all future Santas in this show to meet or exceed.

Each performance will also donate proceeds to a charity chosen by the Santa Claus of that performance.

Being in the age range that experienced the events of the Cold War, as well as having taught history for years, I am very familiar with the political conflicts between the U.S.A and the U.S.S. R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), the arms race and detente, as well as the historical personalities of Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Dan Quayle, Santa Claus and his reindeer. However, until watching this show, I did not realize how each of these characters, and many more, combine to create a story that is one of the funniest and most heartwarming interpretations of historical and hysterical Christmas events on the world stage during the 1980's.

This show wonderfully blends historical events and characters with inventive and creative characters and situations to create a production that is a must see experience for the entire family. All ages will laugh at the antics of the reindeer and other crazy fun characters as they try to save Christmas and learn about history and a life lesson along the way. What a fun and funny way to teach a history lesson that children and adults will remember and a story that includes a life lesson to show us that we should accept the differences in each other, the importance of "family", and that by believing in ourselves we can make a positive difference.


Fun House Theatre and Film
Performing at Plano Children's Theatre
1301 Custer Road, Suite 706, Plano, TX 75075

Runs through December 16th

**NOTE: Each performance will have a special guest playing Santa Claus and donations will be collected for various charities.

Wednesday, Dec. 12th at 7:30 pm - Elias Taylorson, award-winning local actor. Raising awareness and donations for Team Libby

Thursday, Dec. 13th at 7:30 pm - Sean Salisbury, former NFL q