If you are searching for something new to add to your tradition list for the holidays, look no further than A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol by Minnesota brothers Paul and Phil Olson. StageCoach Theatre Company recently opened this musical spoof on the Dickens classic, and the show is an absolute blast.
The story takes place at a bar called The Bunyan in Bunyan Bay, Minnesota, owned by Gunner and Clara Johnson. Gunner is a foul-tempered man who hates Christmas and has some insecurity issues over his inability to get his wife pregnant (a result of “weak swimmers”), which he overcompensates for with toxic masculinity. After getting in a fight with Clara, Gunner goes for a drive on his snowmobile, accidentally crashes through the ice, and goes into a coma.
While unconscious, Gunner dreams of meeting the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, all represented by his former partner and nemesis Sven Yorgenson, and experiences a Minnasotean version of the Charles Dickens tale.
The Olson brothers have a series of musicals centered around these characters, which first started in 2003 with Don’t Hug Me, with the Christmas Carol spoof being the second installment, followed by A Don’t Hug Me County Fair; Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant; and Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married.
The StageCoach theater is small but Director Joey Olson has done an excellent job, along with Set Designer Dan Widerski, utilizing the space to create a realistic interior of The Bunyan, complete with a classic jukebox to represent a karaoke machine.
Music Director Robbie Taylor sits on stage at a keyboard, and anytime a song is played, the actors boop him on the nose as if pushing a button on the machine. It’s a small touch that immediately conveys the light-hearted joyride the audience is about to embark on.
Doug Marcks plays the Scroogish Gunner with a curmudgeonly attitude on full tilt. And Jolene Vettese plays his sweet, neglected wife, Clara. Gunner loves his wife but has the romantic bandwidth of a thumbtack. Marcks and Vettese have a natural banter and play the tired couple that loves begrudgingly.
Kanute Gunderson (Cristian Bustillos) is a bar regular who never pays and has an unhealthy obsession with Bernice Lundstrom (Katie Pond), former Bunyan waitress, former fiancé to Kanute, and aspiring singer. Pond is hysterical as the unintentionally seductive and slightly air-headed Bernice. She bats off Gunderson’s advances with blatant honesty and no-nonsense shutdowns.
And then there’s the suave Sven Yorgensen (Stacy Crickmer), famed folk legend, who we learn dated Clara once upon a time and was Gunner’s former partner. Yorgenson shows up as a coma-induced hallucination from Gunner, simultaneously representing the trio of Christmas ghosts and the embodiment of all of his insecurities.
Crickmer plays Sven as a gender-fluid smooth talker, with a not-so-subtle smirk; and slicking back her hair, she emanates confidence and surety, something poor Marcks’ Gunner is in desperate need of.
Sven takes Gunner on a journey to explore all the ways he mucked up his life with salt-in-the-wound brutality. Like his refusal to adopt, when Clara desperately wanted a child. Reenacted with the song “You Can Call Me Tiny” performed by Pond walking on her knees with a crutch and creating the kind of rolling laughter that ends in tears.
And culminating with Gunner getting in touch with his feminine side in “Deep in the Closet,” which Marcks sings with the at-first hesitant but then fully realized sensitivity of a man cleansed of his machismo.
The five-person cast all sport a Fargo-esque accent, coached by Minnesota native Sheila Widerski, and dress the part with flannels and, of course, with Gunner sporting the iconic trapper hat (costume by Lisa Leary).
The songs are all originals and packed with hilariously goofy lyrics and relatable absurdities you would never think to sing about, like “It’s Christmas Time So Water The Tree,” “The Wheel Is Turning But the Hamster Is Dead,” and — my personal favorite — “Grandma Cut the Christmas Cheese (The Christmas Cheese Polka).”
The humor is just so incredibly silly that the show flies by and you hardly feel the two-hour run time. And at a time when life is heavy and serious, A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol is delightfully refreshing and chock full of the full-bodied belly laughs that are healing for the soul.
StageCoach Theatre Company’s production is perfectly entertaining, with a ridiculously funtastic cast and production crew. Congrats to the team for creating an experience gushing with humor, holiday cheer, and an abundance of shit-eating grins.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one 10-minute intermission.
A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol runs through December 20, 2022, at StageCoach Theatre Company located at 20937 Ashburn Road, Suites 115 and 120, Ashburn, VA. Tickets are $25 and are available for purchase online for in-person or live streaming, or you can also the box office at 571.477.9444.
The program for A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol is online here.
COVID Safety: All guests may choose to wear masks while inside the theater but it is not required.
Gunner Johnson: Doug Marcks; Clara Johnson: Jolene Vettese; Kanute Gunderson: Cristian Bustillos; Bernice Lundstrum: Katie Pond; Sven Yorgensen: Stacy Crickmer
Book and Lyrics: Phil Olson; Music: Paul Olson; Producer: Jerri Wiseman; Director: Joey Olson; Music Director: Robbie Taylor; Technical Director: Terry Smith; Stage Manager: Katie Morris; Minnesota Dialect Coach: Sheila Widerski; Set Design & Construction: Dan Widerski; Lighting Design, Sound Design and Tech: Amy Hines Bates; Livestream Tech: R Aaron Thompson and Mark Kaiser; Costumes: Lisa Leary; Props: April Bridgeman, Katie Morris, Joey Olson, Dan Widerski, Sheila Widerski; Front of House: Gene Bates, April Bridgeman, Mark Gatanas, Sonya Kalian, Scott Strasbaugh, Jerri Wiseman; Marketing: Laura Mills; Photography: Kat Brais; Program: Jerri Wiseman