Although the York Theatre Company flashes a quality cast typical of its productions, the word cockamamie could have been invented to specifically apply to the book that Gary Apple has written for this musical. The actors work valiantly, but the story is so patently stupid that only occasionally entertaining numbers, for which Apple also has written music and lyrics, relieve the overall idiocy.
The York presentation is in association with Xmas in Hell LLC, La Vie Productions, Rays of NY Production Co. & Steve Wampold. There is plenty of blame to share, although audience members willing to suspend the need to believe may enjoy what is splashed before them.
I’ll cite just enough plot to give you an idea of what’s afoot. Davin, an eight-year-old youngster charmingly played by Elija Rayman, eats some fruitcake from hell. He is thus seized by Lucifer (Brandon Williams), which is evidenced by his naughty work in school, including composing a nursery rhyme ditty involving Jane loving Dick. His problematic behavior is described in a musical number by teacher Mrs. Huvey (Donna English). Davin’s dad, Richard (Scott Ahearn), is called to school by Principal Bolton (Ron Wisniski).
What follows is Charles having to rescue his son from the devil, who wants the boy for the son he can never have, involving Charles imbibing a lethal drink that sends him to hell to confront Lucifer. The story works in Charles Manson and a priest (Wisniski) who sends dying Manson to heaven instead of to hell (Charles’s descent there is a substitution).
If you think the story is only that, you’re wrong. There is a plethora of outrageous details and characters, with the cast members playing multiple parts. For example, English plays God and sings a duet, “You’re God” with Richard. There’s the sexily confrontational Galiana (Lori Hammel), who is in love with boogeyman Carl (Zak Risinger,) and they sing, “Hell Will Be Heaven With You.” There’s more, more, and more, including a lyric line, “If they boil you in oil, you’ll still be my goil.”
Another cast member playing various characters, including Detective Zanderhoff, who investigates Davin’s unlikely experience, is Dathan B. Williams. One of the songs I did enjoy was Davin’s singing “Somebody Owes Me a Christmas.”
The direction and choreography are by Bill Castellino, and music direction, arrangements and music supervision are by Logan Medland. James Morgan’s Greek-Roman style scenery and Yael Lubetzky’s lighting design combine to at least give the show some visual flare, especially in an explosive final number geared to proclaim that “Every Day Is Christmas in Hell.” Luckily for the York, a favorite theater group of mine, its other productions are generally the opposite of being as hellish as this misfire. At York Theatre Company at St. Peters, Entrance on 54th Street, East of Lexington Avenue. Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed December 20, 2018.