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Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008 08:07 am

Tuna Christmas is a holiday hoot

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Rich McCoy, left, and Darin Harms as two of the more than 20 characters they play in A Tuna Christmas.

Among the many holiday entertainment offerings in the area — including a beautiful Springfield Ballet Company Nutcracker, LLCC Madrigals, Springfield Choral Society’s A Quiet Christmas, etc. — the new production of the comedy Tuna Christmas that opened last weekend ranks high on the list of pure hilarity. The performance is also a benefit to raise funds for the Hoogland Center for the Arts in downtown Springfield where the show is running, so add that to one of the reasons to put it high up on the list. Tuna Christmas continues performances this weekend, Dec. 12-14 (Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m.).

The show, written by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, is a sequel to their comedy hit, Greater Tuna, and set in the small town of Tuna, Texas on Christmas Eve. Two actors, Rich McCoy and Darin Harms, portray over 20 characters in the town. It’s a show that should play continuously all through the holidays and if you come across someone in a crabby mood, buy them a ticket to this.

McCoy directs the show, with makeup and costumes created by Annie Germann and Debi Iams and all three deliver big time. The costumes and wigs could not be more perfect, from the bouffant hairdos to a holiday outfit worn by one of my favorite characters, Bertha Bulmiller.

An entire town’s characters are introduced in the show, and the plot involves the local Christmas decorating contest and a house decoration-destroying phantom on the loose. That’s about all the plot the show needs because the characters are the stars and Rich McCoy and Darin Harms bring each one to life before our eyes. It begins and ends at the small-town radio station (OKKK) and in two acts (the show runs about two hours) the two perform a stage marathon.

The Tuna enterprise is fascinating in itself. The original show, Greater Tuna, began in Texas in 1981, ended up in New York where it became a long-running hit off-Broadway, was taped for HBO, and both Greater Tuna and Tuna Christmas have been performed at the White House. Greater Tuna is still the best of the plays, and we see some of the darker, more disturbing aspects of the town. Tuna Christmas is a holiday show, so it’s a bit more light and breezy, though there are still serious moments, and as far as I’m concerned, it can be brought back every year. There is also a third show in the series: Red Hot and Tuna.

The key to the success of the show is that the two actors perform quick-changes (which include costume as well as character) and are able to create distinct, individual characters. McCoy and Harms are giving incredible performances, fully drawn and funny, sweet, tender, vicious, jealous, vulnerable and broad. Just to name a few favorites: Harms as smooth-talking radio host Arles Struvie and Didi Snavely (a chain-smoking woman who owns the local gun store), McCoy as Joe Bob Lipsey (the local community theater director) and the two female characters he plays to perfection: old and wise Aunt Pearl Burras and the disappointed wife Bertha Bumiller. This is not a drag show but both of these actors’ portrayals of the women of Tuna, Texas is priceless.

I grew up in the small town of Havana, Ill., worked at the local radio station (WDUK) all through high school, and I remember seeing Greater Tuna in New York in 1982 at Circle-in-the-Square Theater on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, feeling that I just can’t seem to get away from home!

Next week the Roxy Group presents a new musical review of holiday tunes titled Christmas Wishes for three performances, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 19-20, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 21, at 2 p.m., also playing at the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

The show has a cast of 11 local performers, backed up by a 10-piece swing orchestra. Roxy Group shows are always fun, creative affairs (Halloween Dreams, Gypsy, High School Musical) so this new one is definitely a holiday show to put on the calendar.

Call the box office for tickets to both these shows (523-2787) or online at www.scfta.org.

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