Arts

Review: The Troubies Merge ‘White Christmas’ & the Beatles In a Hilarious Mash-Up

(L-R) Mike Sulprizio, Isaac Robinson-Smith, Matt Walker, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Rick Batalla, Philip McNiven, Beth Kennedy and Suzanne Jolie Narbonne in the Troubadour Theater Company's production of "White (Album) Christmas" at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA. Photo credit: Colony Theatre

The Troubadour Theater Company, more affectionately known as the Troubies, has provided 28 seasons of joy and returned with another rib-tickling holiday mash-up at Burbank’s Colony Theatre. This time, the talented troubadours have spliced the 1954 film White Christmas (which was originally released following the eponymous song — the best-selling single in history) with the Beatles’ famed White Album.

(L-R) Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Suzanne Jolie Narbonne, and John Paul Batista (in background) in the Troubadour Theater Company’s production of White (Album) Christmas at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA. Photo credit: Colony Theatre

The rollicking result is a White (Album) Christmas, a merry-making train ride to a parallel universe in Pine Tree, Vermont. Here, Captain Bob Wallace (troupe founding member Rick Batalla) and his pal Phil Davis (Philip McNiven) are more than a riveting stage duo; they’re hysterically irreverent, fourth-wall breaking jokesters with an aptitude for making scripted and improvisational references to both present-day and the past — and the rapt audience wouldn’t have it any other way. Wallace and Davis are also eluded by romantic love which finally comes into full view upon meeting their showbiz female counterparts, the Haynes sisters (Cloie Wyatt Taylor is Betty and Suzanne Jolie Narbonne is Judy). And like the film, the Troubies’ latest offering sees the reunion of once-upon-a-time soldiers Wallace and Davis with their erstwhile General Waverly (director and Troubadour Theater Company founder Matt Walker), the Colony Inn innkeeper working alongside an uproarious housekeeper not-so-subtly named Martha My Dear (Troubie staple Beth Kennedy).

(L-R) Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Rick Batalla, John Paul Batista (in background), and Suzanne Jolie Narbonne in the Troubadour Theater Company’s production of White (Album) Christmas at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA. Photo credit: Colony Theatre

Whether one is a Troubies loyalist or not, there is something for the Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Zers alike as all of Matt Walker’s cleverly changed lyrics, snappy dialogue, gags, and requests for the audience roll at a fierce pace; best of all, no performance is the same as another one. White (Album) Christmas is brought to initial life by the snappy sound design of Robert Arturo Ramirez and the Troubadorchestra featuring Kevin Stevens on drums, Carlos Rivara on the bass, Mike Abraham on the guitar, and music director Ryan Whyman on the piano. The quartet, which has as much fun as the hooting and hollering crowd, kickstarts the festivities with an instrumental “Feliz Navidad” and subsequently Act II with “Jingle Bell Rock,” all the while performing complex Beatles numbers and staying in lockstep with the cast who may or may not boisterously veer off course — if tantalized by the opportunity anyhow.

The extemporaneous spirit of the Troubies flows ebulliently from Walker and Rick Batalla who have been with the entertaining enterprise from the beginning and are not afraid to riff on and lampoon the latecomers, those who read the program during the show, and then throw one unsuspecting onlooker a piece of Fosters Freeze-esque prop poop only to circle back with more jocular jabs. Walker’s “Helter Skelter” General Waverly is front and center like an emcee with a personable wit, engaging attendees and one in particular in Paul Gilmartin of TBS’ late-1990’s/early 2000s Dinner and a Movie, who was feted with quite a comically lascivious “Birthday” song on the Dec. 9th opening night.

Philip McNiven and Suzanne Jolie Narbonne in the Troubadour Theater Company’s production of White (Album) Christmas at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA. Photo credit: Colony Theatre

Batalla’s Wallace sports cartoon-sized prosthetic ears (with gargantuan Q-Tips to match) so there’s no mistaking he’s portraying Bing Crosby’s part, and, via an assist from Walker’s blistering creativity, gut-bustingly turns “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” into “Obey Me or Die,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” into “My Tiny Guitar Will Help You Sleep,” and “Blackbird” into a pirates-packed funhouse of “Blackbeard Fly.” Not to mention, Batalla doesn’t shy away from remarking on the 101 Freeway’s traffic, how long Oppenheimer was, Lauren Boebert’s recent scandal, George Santos, and more. Batalla intrinsically understands how to humorously retell a classic story and then surprise spectators with topical barbs as well as his video-editing skills, especially with farcical “Stop Kissing People” newspaper headline slides early on (following WWII in the plot), which leads to a pun-playful punchline.

McNiven’s depiction of Phil Davis is similarly endearing and equally assists and is boosted by Batalla’s Wallace in a fantastic give-and-take throughout as the two groove in eye-catching 1960’s Sgt. Pepper attire (costume design is by Julian Amaro). And whereas Batalla leads with zaniness, McNiven is by necessity of his character a little more genuine as the straight man who encourages Wallace to find love with Betty Haynes, leaving of course Judy for Phil.

(L-R) Matt Walker, Isaac Robinson-Smith, Philip McNiven, and Rick Batalla in the Troubadour Theater Company’s production of White (Album) Christmas at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA. Photo credit: Colony Theatre

This sister act, however, isn’t as prim or proper as Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen were in the movie. Cloie Wyatt Taylor’s Betty and Suzanne Jolie Narbonne’s Judy are fearlessly hammy, fashionably disheveled, and “all up in your grill” if the need arises to dance in their blonde wigs, which, among other hair pieces, are impressively designed by Narbonne. Taylor shows her versatility with her comic timing — particularly one bit when she demurs to a “White Christmas” — and by belting “Resolution” (as opposed to “Revolution”) before performing a duet with Narbonne’s Judy in “Dear Judy” (in lieu of “Dear Prudence”). Narbonne, additionally, has one last trick up her ankle sleeve when she awes as a ballerina in pointe shoes.

Dallys Newton is both Kitty and Julia, the latter being Waverly’s “granddaughter of an indiscriminate age.” She is chucklesome as a Wednesday Addams type who doesn’t blink and emotes awkwardly before delivering one of the evening’s most memorable displays — a Cirque du Soleil-caliber routine with light-up hula hoops which continue to effortlessly twirl as she negotiates several around her neck, arms, and torso. Lighting designer “Jack from the Colony” ensures that this sequence dazzles with multichromatic flair.

Mike Sulprizio in the Troubadour Theater Company’s production of White (Album) Christmas at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA. Photo credit: Colony Theatre

Troubie stalwart Beth Kennedy makes for a brilliant Martha My Dear, oftentimes stealing the show as the arthritic spinster housekeeper with no neck who suffered a “terrible skiing accident” (wait until you hear why it was “terrible”), and fires one zinger after another, emphasized by the improbable dings of a call bell at the inn’s check-in desk. Kennedy has a keen grasp of how to play to the audience while moving the narrative along, also earning a raucous applause as a secondary warlock character (albeit one perhaps expected by Troubies enthusiasts) with chimes for fingernails as snow finally descends in Vermont.

Last, but not least, among the cast are John Paul Batista who does a vibrant tap number on a sheet of particle board, Mike Sulprizio who commands the stage as Ed Sullivan, and Isaac Robinson-Smith who hits homeruns as both the charismatic bartender Isaac Washington on The Love Train (the mode of transportation has shifted off the boat) and as Morgan Freeman, ceremoniously entering to provide professional narration amid gales of laughter.

(L-R) Philip McNiven, Matt Walker (in background), and Rick Batalla in the Troubadour Theater Company’s production of White (Album) Christmas at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA. Photo credit: Colony Theatre

Suffice it to say, the Troubies have another holiday knee-slapper on their hands with White (Album) Christmas headlined by the Needles (they’re in fir tree-covered Vermont — get it?). Improv comedy blended with beloved music and a renowned premise has never been so satisfying to watch and hear unfold for theatregoers who desire to deservedly let loose during the most festive time of the year.

The Troubadour Theater Company’s production of White (Album) Christmas runs through Saturday, December 23rd at the Colony Theatre (555 N 3rd St, Burbank, CA 91502). For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit troubie.com or colonytheatre.org.

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