By Wesley James
It turns out all Christmas was missing was drag-queens. Well, drag-queens, sexy dance numbers, a Santa Claus usurper, an elf in the big city, jukebox parodies, and a whole lot of gay. Yes, the show is very gay – gay, merry, cheerful, and a ton of fun.
Barney (Yando Lopez) is banished from the North Pole by Santa Claus Jr. for the crime of homosexuality. What follows is a series of fish-out-of-water adventures in Chicago, culminating with Barney falling head-over heels for a beautiful young woman he doesn’t realize is a drag queen (the stunning Dixie Lynn Cartwright). Barney’s incredible sense of wonder and cheer make him a great vessel to receive lessons on sexuality – some of the best moments revolve around him and his paramour Zooey exploring their relationship to drag. Eventually, Barney is called upon to save Christmas with his unmatched capabilities for cheer and love, a silly climax that’s hilariously undercut by Zooey’s sense of irony and unimpressed demeanor.
Three drag-queen muses narrate our way through the side-splitting Christmas romp, breaking up tense moments and scene changes with glorious sass and impeccable showmanship. The songs are creative parodies of both top 40s favorites and Broadway hits, as well as the classic Christmas carols that make it a real Christmas show. The eclectic nature of the musical numbers keeps things fun – as the show crescendos, we bounce seamlessly between Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” and Les Miserables' “Confrontation,” - just one example of the high energy level the show lives at.
Essentially a mix of Elf and Glee, Barney inherits a few of its forebear’s issues – the pacing could be tweaked, the message is pretty overt, and more stage time could be devoted to the show-stealing drag-queens (but that will always be the case). The show wows us, however, with its depth of heart and with the opportunities it gives its cast to show off.
The cast does not disappoint. Our villain (Lewis Rawlinson as Santa Jr.) channels Neil Patrick Harris and Ramsay Bolton. Our Mrs. Claus (Maggie Cain) is a master of the critical eyebrow and the slow burn punchline. Our drag muses (Jack Bauer, Jacob Gilchrist and Jennings Wynn) assume total control of the audience with every flourish. The ensemble is sexy, and the stars of the show intertwine two polar opposite brands of charisma. Zooey’s embodiment of that self-conscious drag-queen dynamism blends with Barney’s adorable naivety just as powerfully as her sultry voice mixes with his full and cheerful one – their flourishing relationship speaks to the love and wonder of the season.
With the Holidays upon us, this show is the magic we crave: unrestrained, funny, and very, very gay.
Barney the Elf runs at the Greenhouse Theatre Center through December 20th. Tickets and more information: www.TheOtherTheatreCompany.com.
Wesley James is a writer and actor living in Chicago.