By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
OK, so imagine if Damon Runyon back around 1940 happened to see the Humphrey Bogart movie “We're No Angels” (which wasn't actually made until 1955) and thought “Hey, that is not a bad idea on which I can artfully construct a Christmas musical for the Great American Playhouse” (which didn't actually open until 2013).
Hey...it could happen. Just check out the holiday show opened at the Great American Playhouse, written and directed by Nick Seivert, titled “We're No Angels.”
Seivert is channeling Runyon for sure, as well as some of the themes made famous on Broadway and around the world in “Guys and Dolls.” All the dialogue is full of imaginative imagery calling up sneaky bookies taking street corner bets, more serious gambling on the boardwalk in Atlantic City and – of course – crap games that are particularly buoyant when pursued by members of various law enforcement agencies.
In Seivert's version it's 1933, a week before Christmas in Manhattan when we meet the trio of gangsters with hearts of gold dressed up as bell-ringing sidewalk Santas eager to place the bets of those who know the secret password.
All the production's roles are double cast, but on opening night these faux Santas were played by Mike Claridge as Dennis “Duke” Johnson, Randy McDonald as Julius “Junior” Moran and Seivert as Henry “bashful” Jones.
Once out of those Yuletide disguises and wearing their daily gangster garb, it must be said they had the widest and most outspoken neckties in captivity.
Adding the dialogue of the dames was Jacinda Rose Swinehart as Nellie “Thursday” Baxter, Amy DeHaven as Virginia “Brainy” Baxter, and Jennifer Ackerley Lawrence as Stella “Gams” Stanley.
Getting the sharpest suit and playing the villain, naturally, was melodrama veteran and visiting guest artist Stewart Gregory, who was menacing enough to do the job.
All the other parts and their accompanying costumes were filled by Sean MacArthur and Nancy LaViola, who is also the show's choreographer.
The story begins with the three Santa/bookies trying to use their insider gambling knowledge and some “sure-fire” tips on the horses to win a pile of cash for a friend. Well, it doesn't take long for that plan to go awry and the big boss Michael “Moose” Moran (Gregory) to get involved.
But the more dire their situation becomes, the more determined become this trio of Bashful, Duke and Junior as the story takes its audience from Manhattan to Atlantic City to Miami to Cuba and back to the Big Apple (only it wasn't called the Big Apple back then, because it was still Christmas of 1933 and...well..you know...)
Included on the song list are “Happy Days Are Here Again,” “It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing” and “Sing Sing Sing.”
Did someone ask “What about the olio?” That would be a salute to the Christmas television specials of Dean Martin, with MacArthur wearing the white dinner jacket of Dino. Their singing and dancing goes from “Sleigh Ride” to “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Well worth the price of admission is McDonald's inspired mania as Jerry Lewis. Words are simply inadequate to the task of describing how McDonald creates and maintains the energy in this whacked-out impersonation.
“We're No Angels” continues through Jan. 3 at the Great American Playhouse. Performances are 7 p.m. Thursdays; 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Fridays; 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sundays.
At 7 p.m. only Dec. 22-24. No performance New Year's Day.
Tickets are $17.95 adults; $15.95 seniors (60-plus), active military and students; $7.95 children 12 and under.
For details and reservations, 520-514-5145, www.greatamericanplayhouse.com