For all its mirthful intentions, Billy Bob’s Holiday Hoedown suffers substantially from undercooked comic material, and from broadly played performances that are often commensurately overdone. The latter might well be the byproduct of the energetic players’ desperate attempt to compensate for the script’s lack of meat.
The setting is Christmastime in small-town Alabama, in the front yard of the Judkins’ double-wide, where good-natured Billy Bob lives with Memaw and Pepaw. Billy Bob has a dream: to get together all his kin and friends, form a family-type band and get a big music contract in Nashville. He’s got one big connection—his sister Thelma Louise is married to a big-shot Music City producer. But the producer cheats on Thelma Louise, and she suddenly shows up teary-eyed at the homestead. Meanwhile, cousins, offspring and local characters gather together to work through the potential musical selections, which—unbeknownst to them, of course—are primarily a collection of song parodies and comedy numbers from co-authors Jamey Green and Lewis Kempfer,
Part of the setup here involves the family band rehearsing their material, and it’s supposed to be funny when they pretty much butcher the songs (especially since they’re striving to be “even bigger than Donna Fargo”). Yet when talented actor-singers merge with less-talented actor-singers to pretend that they are all untalented folks, the results are simply confusing.
Kempfer and Green push their predictably lightweight scenario forward in loud, slapdash fashion, poking redneck fun at the country music biz, TV specials such as John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together and A Charlie Brown Christmas, stage shows such as A Sanders Family Christmas, and even the local theater scene (with a reference to “Old Man Chaffin’s barn”). There’s also a subplot involving a missing manger from the town Nativity scene, which only serves to derail the action.The staging, co-credited to Green and Laura Skaug, looks a bit sloppy, but when the cast comprises nothing but bumbler types, it’s often impossible to perceive intent.
There are a few tunes that manage to impress with some combination of wacko humor or spirited musicality. These include the ensemble number “A Country Christmas,” a duet by the tarty Herbig sisters (Megan Murphy and Melodie Madden Adams) called “Unwrap My Love (This Christmas Morning)”—which includes the line, “open up my box and look inside”—and also “Ode to a Lamp,” in which interesting and elaborate vocal harmonies regale a novelty song that couldn’t be less pertinent to the story.
Nine-year-old Delaney Jacoway gets two solos, including the zydeco-flavored “Papa Noel.” She’s cute as a button, but it’s often nigh impossible to understand her lyrics—and if we’re focusing too much on the kiddie performers, then the grown-ups might be in trouble. (Jacoway shares this role with three other youngsters throughout the show’s run.)
Specific parody numbers lampoon Jerry Herman’s “We Need a Little Christmas” from Mame and Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here.” Another takeoff, “Memaw Got Messed Up by Santa’s John Deere,” does have some legit laugh value. In a more straightforward vein, Lauri Bright offers a rendition of the standard “Merry Christmas, Darling,” but her voice sounds thin, and it’s definitely not her best work.
Mostly, the rest of the performers get stuck trying to make funny with a generally mediocre script, and even the usually excellent Murphy ends up mugging for (attempted) comic effect. As Billy Bob, Stephen Henry courageously tries to hold the plot together, and he succeeds once in a while. Also, Laura Thomas brings a likable presence to her minor role and sings very nicely.
Things don’t really get interesting until the “Grand Finale,” when the cast starts chorusing traditional holiday favorites without mocking them, running medley-style through “Silent Night,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” This attempt to wrap the evening up in a tidy little bow elicits some warm and fuzzy moments, but also makes you wish they’d gotten to this kind of fare, schmaltzy as it is, a little sooner.Discerning theatergoers looking for live seasonal entertainment can do better than Billy Bob’s Holiday Hoedown, but if irreverence is what you want, there’s a little of it herein.
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