Reviewed by Marc Wheeler

It’s Christmas time and y’all know what that means. Theaters everywhere are scurrying to out-Yule each other, mounting countless A Christmas Carols… or their allergic counterparts. Theatre 68 has opted for the latter in Neil Haven’s Who Killed Santa?, directed by Ronnie Marmo. As the title suggests, Santa dies. (Sorry kids). Worry not, spoiler this isn’t. Who Killed Santa? is a silly attempt at a North Pole murder mystery featuring puppets, audience participation and a choose-your-own ending that allows all the elves (that’s you!) to vote on… who killed Santa.

Mrs. Claus is out of town and Santa’s throwing a party for his beloved Christmas favorites: Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Tiny Tim. Also in attendance is the new girl, Chastity — The Little Drummer Girl. (Santa wants to add estrogen to the Christmas canon). Except, she can’t really drum — but who cares, she has nice tits.

Did I mention Who Killed Santa? isn’t for kids? Yeah, leave the tykes at home.

The Man with the Baggage is a pervy, bigoted drunk and accused child molester. His guests, not surprisingly, have issues with him, so when mid-party he kicks the bucket, everyone’s a suspect. Tongue-lashing, finger-pointing and mistletoeing (why not?) ensue.

An attempted dark comedy, Who Killed Santa? will surely elicit scattered chuckles, although its puns and sophomoric humor will likely evoke just as many, if not more, groans. Like when Chastity the exotic dancer (I mean, drummer girl) asks “Who wants a candy cane?” Santa grabs his crotch and replies “I already got a candy cane from you, baby!” Or Tiny Tim’s revelation of a crush prompts the line, “I hope she doesn’t have any Great Expectations.

Holiday songs are parodied aplenty, such as St. Nick rubbing himself on a table singing ”I saw mommy kissing meeeeeeeeeeeee…”, Here Cums Santa Claus and annual favorite Lady Marmalade. (Okay, that last one’s a stretch). Most impressive is a six-part harmony of Santa is Dead set to the tune of Carol of the Bells.

Thanks to the building and coaching talents of Libby Letlow, Who Killed Santa? is told with puppets, à la Avenue Q, with actors dressed all in black, voicing and manipulating their plush alter egos. Performers, however, are prominently featured, bringing life not only to their puppets, but alongside them as well.

Despite a mediocre, if edgy, script, performances are committed across the board. Thomas F. Evans gets the most versatility, shape-shifting between four non-puppeted roles. Inspiring shudders as creepy Kris Kringle himself, he also plays an incompetent detective, then dons a wig as the Tooth Fairy and Mrs. Claus, both to comedic “bad drag” effect. Jotapé Lockwood is an animated delight as the Metallica shirt-sporting Steve (aka The Little Drummer Boy), grimacing and eyeball-rolling at each frustrating turn of events. He also shows off his vocal chops in a sensational rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, his operatic baritone filling the room. Katie Zeiner brings a childish charm to her Tiny Tim, adding a thick Cockney accent (his “Santa” is an amusing “Sant-urrrrrr”) while hobbling her puppet around on his crutch. (She also scores laughs at the performance reviewed when her puppet accidentally loses an eyeball and she improvises jokes upon its return).

Audience sing-a-long “protest songs” take place at the top of each act, as seat-holders represent Santa’s elves who are none-too-happy to be working while “Santa’s favorites” make merry. Playbills serve as makeshift protest signs with slogans like “Santa Sucks!” inscribed on back. Also, an “elf vote” regarding whodunit?! at the end of Act Two inspires one of five possible endings.

Who Killed Santa? though mildly amusing, often substitutes shocks for actual cleverness, and silly wordplay doesn’t always get the laughs for which it aims. That being said, if you’re looking for some light fluff to check off your list, this naughty holiday treat might be just nice enough to get you through the season.