‘Roasting Chestnuts: Oy! It’s Christmas’

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
December 10, 2002

Gina Oswald is a fictional character, but you’ll recognize her immediately when you see her cheesy schtick in the Noble Fool Theater’s revival of the holiday revue “Roasting Chestnuts: Oy! It’s Christmas.”

She is the performer whose insincerity rings through with every verse. She is the entertainer who doesn’t realize her moment has long since passed. And to her whipped co-stars, she is the lipsticked tyrant who rules her brood with an iron fist.

Gina’s also very funny. As channeled through actress Patricia Musker, she is the star of a holiday revue that’s been on the road for a long, long time. There’s sassy, unhappy Cole; conniving, sexy Carol and Kristof, Gina’s boy toy and on-the-road roommate. Then there’s Noel, who deals with the day-to-day monotony of singing backup by sipping from a flask she keeps close to her hip. Literally.

The beauty of “Roasting Chestnuts,” which Noble Fool has staged annually since 1997, is that it takes such delight in poking fun at the genre it celebrates. Anyone who has seen a goody-goody holiday show–whether it’s a Lawrence Welk special, a Donny and Marie extravaganza or a Radio City Music Hall production–knows there’s a fine line between schmaltz and true showmanship.

Unlike her fellow cast members, Gina has no clue that she crossed over into Schmaltzville decades ago. Dressed in sequined clothes best left on a mannequin, she scats her way through holiday songs, mistakes exaggerated lip movements and bullies her way into the spotlight. And when she tackles Elvis’ “Blue Christmas,” she comes out in a white jumpsuit and sideburns made from electrical tape.

With her elastic face, Musker does a fine job as Gina. Incorporating audience members into her act, she had a nice improv moment, working mentions of a snowy white Christmas, Chrysler and GameCube into a “touching” ballad. (Never mind that she accidentally referred to the latter as a “Gameboy Cube.” It was a valiant effort.)

After learning that Gina turned down a chance for them to perform on a tropical island this winter, Cole is thisclose to defecting. “Dance lusty maidens of the frigid Midwest,” he huffs.

Playing the disgruntled touring member, Mick Houlahan is hysterical. In one of his first numbers, he gives new meaning to the verse, “our cheeks are nice and rosy” as he steps onstage slapping his rear end in time to the beat of a Christmas carol. The S&M-lite moment is that much funnier because he is dressed in a cheesy sweater outfit that could’ve been lifted directly from an Old Navy commercial.

Some of the sketches slow down the show’s pace, and the jokes are of the groaner variety (“What do you call three hookers running for an elevator? Ho, ho, ho!”). But you leave the show with a smile on your face and just a little grateful that no matter how bad your holiday may be, you’re still better off than Gina.

December 10, 2002

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