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Before In Tandem Theatre’s A Cudahy Caroler Christmas opened this weekend, the performances were 65 percent sold out. These familiar Milwaukee characters from the South Side, Stasch and Pee Wee try to settle their personal differences when the Cudahy Carolers reunite for a special, one time cable television performance.

In Tandem’s Artistic Director Chris Flieller and Managing Director Jane Flieller claim the play’s “alternative, exaggerated comedic level’ gives the off beat humor heart. Chris jumps in to add, "The Cudahy Carolers write a little valentine to the working class of Cudahy to embrace the play’s longevity.”

The character’s hometown, Cudahy, and South Side cultural references speak to the “the epic struggle of the work a day person,” while remaining laugh out loud funny. This includes any personal dreams to be a ski queen at a Wisconsin Dells water ski show or enjoy the city’s North Shore, Whitefish Bay, as a fine place to live. However, alternative entertainment needs to be as Jane puts it, “Cleverly constructed and acted well while providing a higher concept to the audience."

Chris explains, “There’s a quirky heart here in the play, when Stash and Pee Wee who are at odds with each other find the true spirit of the holidays in their friendship and forgiveness.”

The musical offers close to a dozen revamped traditional carols sung with slightly provocative lyrics where Jane comments, “There’s the transformative power of the music that helps change the cast. When they’re singing together, they listen to each other. And this beautifully allows them to come together in harmony by the end of the show.”

While the original production celebrates its 10th anniversary and premiered in 2002, the songs from that first show remain cult favorites including: “We Three Guys,” “South Side Carol of the Bells” and “O Little Town of Cudahy,” with a sound track available on a CD for purchase at the theater. At a performance on Saturday night, Stash claims in the production, perhaps as the current audience might in this economic downturn, “The carolers warmed our hearts during depressions and World Wars.”

Later on in the show Stasch reprises these thoughts when everyone’s arguing at a rehearsal. “I just wanted to get everyone singing and make everyone happy for a little while. I just wanted everyone to get along.”

This year’s cast creates that Cudahy connection with utter delight. Chris Flieller captures the essence of Stasch with his 200th appearance on Christmas Eve in 2012 that butts heads and fists well with Nathan Wesseloski’s Pee Wee. The women mesmerize the audience in several solo numbers playing Edna (Lisa Morris), Nellie (Kelly Cline), Wanda (Samantha Paige) and Trixie (Alison Mary Forbes), singularly starring on the small stage. Musically, the entire Cudahy Carolers perform some astonishing arrangements to difficult melodies that heighten the irregular comedy. The familiar songs with sometimes sophomoric lyrics have more than a pinch of truth to them.

The Tenth Street Theatre stage brings these infamous characters to life as never before for In Tandem's 15th anniversary, for the first time in their new home. Up close and personal so the audience can cling to every facial expression or swing around a structural stage pole. Jane, who has directed every year, “refreshed’” and  “spruced up” the 2012 production. All works seamlessly, as glorious as on an O Bowling Night that the audience will laugh and smile to, which is as Stasch says, “Taking the psycho with the songbird.”

Buy a ticket before every show is sold out and then have some dress up fun supporting In Tandem at their January 26 fundraiser, The Crystal Ball. And remember throughout the yuletide season to forget and forgive at family festivities. Come together for a little holiday harmony whenever one celebrates this year. Jane smiles when she talks about the bigger meaning to this musical comedy and says, “No one remembers what anyone argued about and then wastes precious time. Everything’s forgivable if you talk about it. “

In Tandem Theatre presents A Cudahy Caroler Christmas by Anthony Wood through January 5. Remember to support this company by attending The Crystal Ball: 15 Years of Theatre Magic! on Saturday, January 26, 6:00-10:00 p.m., with champagne, cake and dancing to live music. For further information or tickets to the show or Crystal Ball, please call: 414.271.1371 or click the In Tandem link to the left.   By Peggy Sue Dunigan




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