Monday, December 13, 2010

The Real Story of The First Jo-el

The First Jo-el
Brandon Breault, Morgan Rusler and Matt Walker
Photos by Chelsea Sutton

“It’s a boy!” for The Troubadour Theatre Company, otherwise affectionately known as The Troubies, as they tell the story of the most famous baby in biblical history in The First Jo-el. So who’s Jo-el? He’s the other baby that was born that night in Bethlehem when three wise guys (Matt Walker as Gold, Brandon Breault as Myr and Morgan Rusler as Frankenstein) traveled to a lonely inn run by Greta (Lisa Valenzuela) and Nicholas (Jack McGee), looking for the Miracle Mom that would deliver the savior of the world.

The First Jo-el The First Jo-el
Matt Morgan, Katie Nunez, Katherine Malak and Matt Walker

Before Mary (Katherine Malak) and Joseph (Matt Walker) arrived on the scene, as per the usual story, there was Letty (Katie Nunez), Greta and Nicholas’ pregnant daughter, and her somewhat smelly stable boy betrothed, Manolo (Matt Morgan), who was having a hard time convincing dad that he was worthy of her hand.

The First Jo-el
Beth Kennedy and Lisa Valenzuela

There’s also the other sister Hoffy (Beth Kennedy), who’s a whiz at making fresh-squeezed lemonade hot-dog-on-a-stick style, three very sexy angels (Christine Lakin, Katherine Malak and Jackie Seiden) and a host of other characters that appear throughout the story – some as fantastic cameos – proving that an actor’s “commitment to a five second character” is worth it every time.

The First Jo-el
Jack McGee w/ Katherine Malak,
Jackie Seiden and Christine Lakin

Oh, and did I mention that it’s also a musical? Twenty Billy Joel favorites are turned inside out as only the Troubies can rewrite them, so expect to have some fun with songs like She’s Got A pregnant Way About Her, Movin’ Out with a little added Spanish, Pressure and a not-so-calm angel, Always a Virgin To Me (‘nuff said), Only the Boys Die Young by decree, and I think my favorite number of all – King Herod’s balcony version of New York State of Mind, complete with wrap-around cloth piano.

If this sounds a bit non-traditional for a Christmas story, you’re absolutely right. It’s about as far from typical as you’ll ever find, and more fun than riding a roller coaster blindfolded. With a script that includes everything from laugh-out-loud topical references to groaners galore, this talented cast proves once again that they know how to bring the funny.

And they should. Artistic Director Matt Walker and his troupe have created a form of theatre all their own that combines elements of Commedia Del Arte, physical comedy, acrobatics, clowning, improv, music and dance in a balls-to-the-wall comedic style that always delivers the goods.

There’s plenty of audience participation – even a couple sitting onstage in Greta’s Café as part of the show. Perhaps that’s one reason the Troubies have such a loyal following. They treat their audience as participants in the theatrical experience, involving them in the creative process, rather than relegating them to the passive position of onlookers.

Choreographer Molly Alvarez’s dance sequences are cheeky and entertaining, mustering up all the athleticism the 80’s had to offer, including one in which the two pregnant moms do the electric slide and a dream sequence for Manolo that will leave you shaking your head. Like he says, “It’s a terrific device.” Plus, who could resist a singing and dancing ass?

You can’t have a musical without top notch musicians and the Troubie band, made up of Eric Heinly (musical director/drums), Tori Ruffin (guitar), Kevin McCourt (keyboards), Justin Panariello (bass) and Hayan Charlston (sax/ewi), is terrific. Onstage throughout, they prove that great comedy and great music go hand in hand….or, tongue in cheek as it were.

And leave it to the design team Mike Jespersen (set), Naomi Yoshida (costumes), Jeremy Pivnick (lighting), and Julie Ferrin (sound) to enhance the bright, festive feel of the show. One look and you know a good time is coming on.

The Troubies’ holiday shows are some of their best, with The First Jo-el joining a campy catalogue that includes JACKson FROST, It’s a Stevie Wonderful Life, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Motown, Little Drummer Bowie, A Charlie James Brown Christmas and last year’s hit, Frosty the Snow Manilow, so get your tickets now. Shows sell out and this is one holiday favorite you’ll want to put in the books as a fantastic reminder of the fun you had in 2010.

The First Jo-el will run through January 16, 2011 at the Falcon Theatre in Toluca Lake. For tickets and more information go to or

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