By Jane Recker
Snowgirls the Musical is about reindeer strippers. That alone should give you a pretty good idea of what the show is like.
Snowgirls is not high art, people.
The plot is a direct parody of the movie Showgirls with more holes in it than Swiss cheese. The singing is sometimes lackluster, and the production value is decidedly low-budget. But dammit if it isn’t fun.
What Snowgirls lacks in any sort of substance, it more than makes up for with its bawdy premise, its deliciously smutty humor and its commitment to making a glittering holiday delight.
For those not familiar with Showgirls (or those ashamed to admit familiarity), Snowgirls tells the story of a young reindeer, Snowmi Malone (Harper Leander), who hitches a ride to the North Pole to make it big and become a showgirl at the Snowdust Lounge, home to star showgirl Ice Crystal Connors (Sydney Genco).
The parody of Showgirls itself is extremely clever. The juxtaposition of the pastoral Christmas characters of our childhoods with the seediness of the world of topless dancing creates an atmosphere ripe for comedy. The show celebrates both those easy, brash jokes – like Mrs. Claus (Erin Daly) flashing a pair of panties with “Naughty” emblazoned on the derriere during her bow – and the more subtle humor that requires attention to detail: in a commitment to anatomical exactness, costume designer Kate Setzer Kamphausen made sure all the reindeer had two sets of nipples to flash in their topless scenes.
It’s Kamphausen’s costume design that gives the show its Christmas spirit and sense of razzle-dazzle. Layering off a simple but effective brown furry body suit for all the reindeer, Kamphausen really gets to have some fun, throwing in a glittering red cocktail dress for Mrs. Claus, a scandalously draping silvery number for Ice Crystal, and, of course, plenty of aerobic gear for the young reindeer dancers trying to make it in the industry. Props to makeup designer Genco and wig designer Keith Ryan as well for tying the whole look together.
Sadly, their design can only distract so much from the barely-there plot. While Snowgirls follows the storyline of Showgirls almost to the tee, there are points where the show’s attempt to riff on Showgirls iconic scenes leave the audience confused as to what’s actually happening. While being low budget in regard to set and props isn’t automatically a ding for any show, it becomes detrimental when the clarity of Snowgirls is dependent upon explanatory dialogue that simply isn’t there. Snowgirls tries to pack in so many jokes to its hour and 45 minute run that it forgets the audience occasionally needs expository dialogue to keep up with the show.
But with a constant barrage of jokes comes ample opportunity for comedic actors to really shine. Daly is the antithesis of the matronly Mrs. Claus romanticized in popular culture. Sporting a heavy Brooklyn accent, even heavier makeup and a brash, hyper-sexualized attitude, the best way to describe her interpretation of the Mrs. is freaking awesome. Taking advantage of every easy Christmas joke in the book, (Santa only comes once a year, Santa and his hoe hoe hoes, etc.) Daly steals every scene she’s in and becomes a fan favorite from the minute she first steps onstage.
Genco also shines as the over-the-top Ice Crystal Connors. Able to out-dance any other reindeer while owning each number with a deliciously raspy alto, Genco is then able to effortlessly deliver joke after joke with comedic timing bordering on military-grade precision. It’s her presence onstage that gives the show enough energy and pizzazz to slog its way through those stickier plot holes.
All in all, the show is a holiday delight not to be shared with the whole family. Sure, it might not always make sense and the cast might not always be in tune, but, at the end of the day, who really cares when there are great laughs to be had and a full bar in the back?
Hell in a Handbag presents “Snowgirls: The Musical” through December 30 at 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.