Thursday, December 20, 2018

Review: Troubies to the Rescue in THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTANA CLAUS

The cast of The Year Without a Santana Claus. All photos by Ed Krieger

What would Christmas in LA be without the Troubies? A lot less funny.

Happily, artistic director, writer, and head jokester Matt “Mashup” Walker and his coterie of clowns aren’t about to let anyone down. Not only are they back with their seventeenth annual holiday show, they’re proving just how smart they really are when it comes to delivering a performance that has its finger on the pulse of what’s happening now.

That being the case, it’s the women who save the day in this year’s holiday extravaganza, The Year Without a Santana Claus, specifically a spicy Mrs. Claus (Giana Bommarito) and a sexy Mother Nature (Cloie Wyatt Taylor). Typically content to remain in the background, these two partner up to save Christmas in a modern day twist on the 1974 Rankin & Bass stop-motion television special, adapted by Walker and fleshed out by the improv talents of the jovial ensemble. It’s a 2018 update that is so clever it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before.

The whole inclusive nature of the show also makes it a perfect Christmas story for the many flavors of our multicultural city. Throw in some circus-style enhancements, great choreography, and a few magic tricks, and it’s Christmas Troubie style, the most pun-derful time of the year.

Rick Batalla on guitar

The show stars a waggish bare-chested bilingual Santa Claus (Rick Batalla) playing Santana’s greatest hits on his electric guitar and bemoaning the world’s lack of Christmas spirit. In a Troubie show, individual talents always come into play and the reveal that Batalla is actually good on that red Stratocaster is this year’s jewel in the crown. That the house band sounds like they’re ready to go on the road is no surprise either. The musicians showcased in every Troubie production, and the (uncredited) arrangements they play, give these kooky parodies actual street cred. For this show it is Ryan Whyman on keyboards, Matt Hornbeck on guitar, Blake Estrada on bass, and Nick Stone on percussion who elevate the proceedings into classic Latin rock territory on nearly a dozen Santana favorites.

Retooled songs like “Oye Como Va” which opens the show and makes a splashy, colorful introduction; Mother Nature’s bluesy “Black Magic Woman”; and “No One to Depend On” sung by a disgruntled little girl named Judy (Chelle Denton) who feels Santa has abandoned her, are creatively worked into the characters’ storylines.

Dueling brothers Snow Miser (Beth Kennedy, when she’s not playing a googly-eyed elf named Jingles) and a petulant Heat Miser (one of many terrific offbeat characters Walker plays) each have their own full-on production number. Of course Snowy gets the Santana/Rob Thomas megahit “Smooth” as Kennedy brings back yet another winter figure to portray the role in a long-running annual gag regulars will love.

It takes a fair amount of artistic license to get the job done and that is exactly what the audience is looking for. “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh!” like the song says. This latest holiday confection does that and more. It’s safe to say, if you don’t have a good time it’s yer own dang fault.

December 8-30, 2018
Troubadour Theater Company at
The El Portal Theatre
11206 Weddington Street
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Tickets: (818) 508-4200 or

Jess Coffman and Luis "L.T." Martinez as Dancer and Prancer
with Rick Batalla and Giana Bommarito

Beth Kennedy and Matt Walker

Rick Batalla and goofiest bunch of elves you've ever seen

Beth Kennedy, Rick Batalla, Ginan Bommarito and Matt Walker

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