A Survivor! Christmas | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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A Survivor! Christmas


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A Survivor! Christmas, Zeppo Theater Company, at the Beat Kitchen. The third in Zeppo's series of end-of-the-year musicals is yet another sparkling foray into giddily obvious humor. Writer-director George Brant ties his send-up of the real-TV hit into the holidays with a premise that's both hilariously stupid and ingenious: the contestants compete on Christmas day against the ultimate ringer--Jesus. With music by Paige Coffman, this is more a pageant than a show--but a highly entertaining one. Mark Vanasse as Cliff, the Richard surrogate, does a sharp, subtle impression, though he's somewhat upstaged by his stagecraft-enhanced ass. Steven Fedoruk, the pseudo Rudy, redeems his senile-and-homophobic routine through sheer exaggeration. Jackie Sidle as faux Susan Flo sports an excellent double-truck-drivin' accent, and as power-mad host Jeff Probst, Mike Beyer oozes unctuous vanity.

But the backward deus ex machina of James Sullivan as J.C. is what really carries this parody. Of course Christ bakes better fruitcake than his rivals even when they cheat. And it's only natural that he wears the immunity badge half the time and continually tries to vote himself off the island. When the competition narrows to him and Cliff, Cliff gives a concise defense of his Machiavellian principles to the jury while J.C. sings a gentle song, "Follow the Bethlehem Star"--and the jurists spontaneously join in, singing three-part harmony. Though essentially the same few jokes are told over and over, they get funnier with repetition--exactly the trick Zeppo is trying to pull off.

--Brian Nemtusak

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