O’Connell & Company is going to “camp” for the holidays, with an over-the-top and sweetly outrageous presentation of “The Betsy Carmichael Christmas Special.”
Special indeed. Joey Bucheker holds court as his alter ego, glamorous Bingo queen Betsy Carmichael, in her fur-trimmed red gown and glittery eyeglasses, to create a perfect marriage of the naughty and nice. The stage set is a Bingo parlor cum Christmas cabaret, with a 12-foot tree, working Bingo board, stockings hung with care on a fake fireplace and shimmering silver and gold backdrop.
A pillow embroidered with “Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle” offers the theme for the evening, as Dame Edna … I mean Betsy … juggles her attentions between the audience and her holiday guests. Joining her onstage are the “twins” Mary Margaret and Margaret Mary, played by Corey Bieber and Adam M. Wall; plus Jerry Mosey as Chip the Bingo caller; straight-laced Mickey (Sean Murphy), the boyfriend; and, on opening night, special guest Marc Sacco in the rotating role of “special guest.”
It takes only second to realize that, beneath her platinum wig and brilliant smile, Betsy is a bit of a holiday nutcracker herself. She is adept at serving up the racy without being raunchy, a special talent for a character surrounded by Christmas balls and Bingo balls on a stage full of men in drag.
Betsy is particularly cheeky with her ribbing when she has the houselights go up on the audience so everyone can see their Bingo cards. Yes, there are Bingo games, and real winners, with gift-wrapped prizes they pick up on stage.
It should be clear that this isn’t your typical Christmas show. No one makes troll-faced ornaments out of old lightbulbs during “A Christmas Carol,” and the Grinch never had nearly the fun in his Santa suit that a chorus line of Clauses has here.
But then, just when we’re thinking the whole show will be silly send-ups, Betsy surprises us. She and her “arch nemesis” Chip dip deep into the nostalgia bin for a charming “Toyland” duet, and in Act II a pack of kiddie carolers marches out to jointhe audience in Christmas carols. Betsy also reflects on loved ones she’s lost from Christmases Past and there’s even a tiny crisis in Christmas present.
There’s also a healthy serving of corn, much of it wrapped into a jokey tribute to the legendary Bob Hope. But even Hope might not have had the nerve to deliver “What’s the matter with his girlfriend? She’s a flake” or “How many reindeer does it take to change a lightbulb? Eight, one to change the bulb and seven to hold Rudolph down.”
It all adds up to a merry little Christmas show. And remember, if you’re a Bingo winner, you will be called onto the stage at the Park School, too, so consider donning your gay apparel before heading out. (That is, Betsy notes, “Gay meaning happy, not like Anderson Cooper”).
As director Mary Kate O’Connell said to open the show, “Right now we really deserve two hours of laughter.”
The Betsy Carmichael Christmas Special
3 stars (out of four)
An original musical comedy experience, at O'Connell & Company at The Park School, 4625 Harlem Road, Snyder, Thursdays through Sundays, through Dec. 18. For tickets call (716) 848.0800 or online at www.oconnellandcompany.com.