You saw her last when she was just two
Celebrate the holidays with Cindy Lou Who
Pull up a seat and fill up your cup
‘Cause your favorite little Who is all grown up
So begins the rhythmic rhyme of Who’s Holiday! - a wild and delicious comedy that tugs at your heartstrings and spikes your eggnog with a shot of your favorite adults-only beverage in this highly original piece of experimental theatre that tells the story of Cindy Lou Who recalling that one Christmas Eve when she first met the Grinch, along with the twisted turn of events her life has taken since that fateful encounter.
In this regional premier of playwright Matthew Lombardo’s raunchy riff on Dr. Seuss’s classic yuletide tale, the little tyke has become a bottle-blonde adult who spends her days in a trailer appointed with Airstream functionality and seasonal kitsch that adds a little dirt to the holiday season while ultimately reveling in its true spirit.
Set for only two performances on Saturday, December 10th & 17th as part of Pit & Balcony Community Theatre’s After Dark series, when this delicious one-woman production first appeared back in 2017 to engage the hearts and sensibilities of audiences with its infectious brand of humor, the challenges and temptation involved with portraying such a dish of a character were too powerful for actors Mandee Wunderlee and Barbie Carr to deny. Consequently, after each of them auditioned for the role both of them ended up securing the part.
How is this possible you may well ask? Well, in the magically experimental Whoville of the Pit & Balcony community, anything is possible!
As Barbie explains: “When the concept was presented to us Pit & Balcony wanted to try something different. Not only were they going to stage a second After Dark play at the same time they were running their usual seasonal Christmas show, but they also wanted to try having two separate actors co-directing each other for the production. So I will be directing Mandee for her performance, and then she will be directing me in my take on the character."
Although one might think this is a brilliant method to explore the yin & yang of a single character through the interpretative abilities of each actor, according to Mandee they actually complement each other in terms of acting and directing styles.
“Over the course of knowing each other I’ve come to find we’re very identical in a lot of concepts,” explains Mandee. “I’m more of a methodical person and a lot more structured, while Barbie is very free-spirited, so we collaborated with that. Whenever I got a little too rigid in my portrayal of the character, Barbie stepped in and helped me make it flow a little easier; and when Barbie got a little too free and loose at times, I was able to contour her with a little more structure.”
This unique alliance in terms of rendering the alignment of the character has also help overcome a lot of the challenges involved with the production. “When we started blocking everything to figure where we would go and move, each of us kept different sets of blocking notes,” explains Barbie. “When we started talking about it we had a lot of the same ideas and decided to put those concepts together and have a main formatted perspective of where the character is supposed to be on stage, while still giving Cyndi Lou a little of our own unique creative flare.”
So how exactly has Cyndi Lou changed and how bad has she gotten?
“Well, the last time we saw her she was two or three years-old in her little pink PJ’s and now she’s all grown up and life has not been great,” reflects Mandee. “A lot of rough things have happened to poor Cyndi Lou and now she is a chain-smoking, swearing, possible ex-convict trying to get her life back together.”
“But there’s also a beautiful message within the words of her character about acceptance and second chances, and especially the importance of making room for people at your table, especially around the holidays that we’re focusing on,” she continues.
“Cyndi Lou is now in her 40s and she’s lived a life,” notes Barbie. “Our favorite analogy for her is that crazy aunt who smells a little too much like gin and is always a little tipsy at the holiday party. We make some space with her and want to encourage the audience to do the same and give people second chances and remember lonely people during the holidays. Put aside your prejudices. What better time of the year to do that, whatever you celebrate?"
According to Mandee, the premise behind Who’ Holiday is quite simple. “Cyndi Lou is throwing a party for some of the other citizens of Whoville and things don’t go exactly as planned, so she starts to realize things about herself and about the other citizens of Whoville throughout the show. She can get bitter very quickly, but really she wants to ultimately teach the audience about love and caring for each other.”
When asked the biggest challenge involved with pulling everything together, Barbie references the focus a one-woman production presents to an actor.
“Essentially, it’s one actor narrating Cyndi Lou’s story to the audience all in Seussical rhyme, but also involves audience participation. In a normal play the goal is to get all your lines perfect the way they are written, but that doesn’t always happen and if it does you can always work your way back. But with this done in Seussical rhyme you have to get every word and line perfect to continue moving the story.”
“If you mess up you can’t just adlib, so there’s a lot of memorization involved. Plus, if other actors are involved you can always take your cues from what someone else said, so essentially you are taking your own cues from what you just said, which is a bit harder and challenging but also part of what makes it fun.”
So what was it about this play that made each of them want to take on the many challenges involved?
“I’m selfish about this play and completely self-involved,” states Mandee. “The last show I’ve been on stage for at Pit & Balcony was Miss Firecracker eleven years ago, and nothing has really grabbed my attention to want to get back on stage. I have four kids and a very busy life at my house, but this stood out to me because it was so different and something I hadn’t seen before, so it pulled me back in. And I love that with the other angle of being co-director, I get to do two things I love. I’ve been acting since the age of 12, so this is something that brought two loves of mine together - creating this beautiful little art piece to bring to the community.”
“I’ve always wanted to direct a play here at Pit & Balcony,” explains Barbie. “The first show I got involved was Pit’s production of Little Shop of Horrors back in 2008 and that got me hooked. I just moved to Saginaw and have directed a few things in Frankenmuth, but really wanted to direct something here. When I went to the meeting to find what shows were coming up and this collaboration was presented, I can’t tell you how many people looked at both me and Mandee and said how amazing our personalities would work together on this show, and they were right. We don’t butt heads over ideas and hear each other out.”
As for the character itself, both women agree that the ripeness of Cyndi Lou is worth all the sacrifice involved bringing her to life.
“I love the plays that Lombardo writes because he loves writing really strong female characters that are very multi-dimensional and not flat, concludes Mandee. “I like to portray somebody with depth and emotion and this character has it all. Plus, I get to swear on stage and love the fact I get to interact with audience members. This is one of the few shows you can do that breaks that wall.”
“Everything we’re doing is in front of the curtain and this is definitely a prop heavy show,” concludes Barbie. “But we’re dramatic people and what I love is how this is truly the definition of community theatre. It takes a full community to put everything together, from staging and props and costumes - especially producing two plays at the same time - so it just goes to show the talent that we have here at Pit & Balcony and how much of a community theatre it really is.”
Pit & Balcony’s regional premier production of ‘Who’s Holiday?’ will run on Saturday, December 10 & 17th at 7:30 PM. Barbie Carr’s performance will be on December 10th and Mandee Wunderlee’s performance will happen on December 17th. Tickets are only $15.00 and available by calling 989.754.6587 or visiting PitandBalconyTheatre.com.
9th February, 2024