One test of a good performer — especially a comic performer — is what he or she does when the material goes wrong.
A sketch at the end of the first act of Brave New Workshop's latest revue, I Saw Daddy Marry Santa Claus, was headed in that horrible direction last Thursday, before swerving mercifully back on course.
The sketch started out brightly enough, as Andy Hilbrands — employing a spot-on Morgan Freeman voice — chatted with a softball team to set up the next sketch about an album of Christmas songs no one has heard of before. For this bit, the audience suggests ideas for the improvised songs, but the concept didn't quite make it from the stage to the crowd. Cue a long, embarrassing silence instead of a bevy of suggestions. Finally, the softball players tossed out "Malibu Barbie," and Hilbrands and Tom Reed were able to craft a sultry soul jam based on the plastic doll. Show saved.
I SAW DADDY MARRY SANTA CLAUS Brave New Workshop 824 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis Through Feb. 1; 612-332-6620
Perhaps more than anything else, this blip in the proceedings showcases how deeply talented the current Brave New Workshop cadre is, whether the cast is deftly saving an improv scene or barreling through 90 minutes of off-kilter holiday traditions at break-neck speed.
I Saw Daddy Marry Santa Claus is a collection of mostly fresh sketches and songs and a reminder of what has made the Brave New Workshop a local favorite for half a century. The comedy is quick and sharp, the performances are engaging, and the occasional dud of a sketch doesn't overwhelm the overall joy of the show.
Lauren Anderson and Taj Ruler are two of the absolute highlights of the show. First, the pair play a former student and her elementary-school teacher, who has been driven mad by the constant shifts in what is and isn't acceptable for classroom holiday celebrations. Ruler's longtime teacher is so confused by all of the new rules that she has barely left her classroom in years.
The roles get reversed later, with Ruler playing the straight woman to Anderson's crazed character. Here, Anderson portrays a typical suburban homeowner, with a considerable fetish for Christmas trees. She goes beyond having one in the living room, or even one in every room. By the end, we've moved into a nonsensical scene that would make Monty Python proud, with a tomato identified as a "round and red" tree.
Hilbrands's Morgan Freeman impression pops up throughout the show, linking each of the wildly different sketches. His greatest moment comes by way of a dramatic reading from Fifty Shades of Grey, which proves that all the Freeman-inspired gravitas in the world can't overcome a scene in which a woman eats a Freudian piece of asparagus. Apart from a sketch in a retirement home that takes a long time (two segments actually) to get to its Freeman-inspired punchline, the sketches work.
The production ends with the welcome return of one of Brave New Workshop's own traditions: the twisted rendition of "The 12 Days of Christmas," in which the whole company, including the talented Matt Erkel, takes aim at everything the holiday season entails. There's a dad (interrogating about the route you took to get home) and a mom (just wondering when you are coming home); a boss with bad news; a creepy Santa Claus; and Ylvil's inexplicable internet hit, "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)," followed by one final round with Morgan Freeman and Fifty Shades of Grey.