'Cudahy Caroler' Creator Pens In Tandem's Latest Holiday Variety Show
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: The cast of 'A Cudahy Caroler Christmas' (2014). Photo by Mark Frohna.
Over its past 21 seasons, In Tandem Theatre has become Milwaukee’s unofficial home for alternative holiday fun—and co-founders Chris and Jane Flieller do not plan on giving up that reputation any time soon.
For this season’s offering, Merry Chris-Mess, think early Saturday Night Live.
The show is set as an old-fashioned television variety show, hosted by the Cudahy Carolers, of A Cudahy Caroler Christmas fame. In Tandem Theatre staged a non-consecutive nine seasons of A Cudahy Caroler Christmas, which connected with audiences for poking fun at our fair city with songs like “O Bowling Night,” “In the Dells,” and “We T’ree Guys from Cudahy Are.”
Profits from the first six runs of Cudahy Caroler played a major role in building and opening In Tandem’s current home, the Tenth Street Theatre, located in the lower level of the Calvary Church.
Cudahy Caroler creator Anthony Wood returns with Merry Chris-Mess, bringing together new Cudahy Caroler songs, original sketches and a one-act spoof of It’s a Wonderful Life, frankly called It’s a Life.
"It dawned on me once while I was watching It’s A Wonderful Life just how irritating George (Bailey) was,” Wood jokes. “It’s still a charming film, but I just said ‘wow, what an annoying guy.’”
Wood then proceeded to rent the complete script of It’s A Wonderful Life from the Milwaukee Public Library and pick it apart. In Wood’s version, when the guardian angel shows George what life would be like without him, everyone is actually much happier.
“I think the reason it went over well with the original audience is that everybody knows that movie,” Wood says. “There probably isn’t anyone in this century that hasn’t seen it unless you live under a rock. You make a joke about something, they know what it is right away.”
Adam Estes (Perry Williams) and Samantha Sostarich (Granny Goodbottom) in In Tandem's 'Holiday Hell: The Curse of Perry Williams' by Anthony Wood and Monty Carter. Photo by Mark Frohna.
It’s a Life takes up the complete second act of Merry Chris-Mess, with the comedic sketches and Cudahy Caroler tunes making up the first act.
“It’s our favorite sketches from years passed and even before In Tandem,” Jane explains. “I know there are many people who haven’t seen these before, or haven’t seen them in 20 years or more.”
Before Jane and Chris started In Tandem, they were members of a theater company called Screaming Penguin Productions. Jane describes Screaming Penguins as a loose-knit group of friends that produced one to three pieces a year. Wood was also a part of Screaming Penguins.
“It was pretty much whoever smelt it dealt it,” Jane says. “If you went here’s a play I want to produce then you got to produce it.”
Each season, Screaming Penguins created a show called Holiday Hell, composed of sketches and song parodies much like Merry Chris-Mess.
When the Fliellers decided to bring the Holiday Hell comedy variety show back in 2016, they commissioned Wood to write the piece. This turned into Holiday Hell: The Curse of Perry Williams, a full-length musical about a television crooner in the midst of his annual Christmas special in the 1950s.
“Since people would now associate Holiday Hell with Perry Williams, we had to come up with a new title for this sketch comedy show,” Jane shares. “We came up with Merry Chris-Mess so people would get the idea that it’s not your traditional holiday affair. It’s right in line with what we’ve become known for.”
Merry Chris-Mess, presented by In Tandem Theatre, runs November 29 – January 6 at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St. For tickets visit intandemtheatre.org or call the box office at (414) 271-1371.