Thursday, November 30, 2017

REVIEW: Don Your Gay Apparel and Catch Other Theatre's Hilarious Barney the Elf at Greenhouse Theater Through December 30th

The Smash Hit Returns!
Other Theatre Presents the Adult Holiday Musical
By Bryan Renaud
Lyrics by Bryan Renaud and Emily Schmidt
Directed and Choreographed by Tommy Rivera-Vega
Music Direction by Nik Kmiecik

Music Arrangements by Jermaine Hill

Through December 30, 2017 at Greenhouse Theater Center

I was expecting parodies of show tunes and holiday classics, a bit of naughty adult humor and an LGBTQ twist on Elf the Musical, but Barney the Elf goes above and beyond. Sure it's creatively campy, but there's a sweet undercurrent of depth here that celebrates the gay community, embraces those who have been kicked out of their homes just for being themselves, and condemns bullies, even while acknowledging that sometimes the bullies win.  

Santa is dead, but Christmas doesn't have to be, with a bit more cheer and holiday enthusiasm from Barney the Elf, the epitome of misfit elves, banished by a decidedly Trump-like Santa Junior on suspicion of being gay. Like the movie and musical this parodies most closely, this elf is given a snow globe and sets off for the big city (Chicago this time) on a quest to find himself (not his dad). He gets robbed, finds a job mopping floors at a drag bar, and ultimately saves Christmas when Junior's sleigh crashes from a lack of Christmas spirit (from it's driver this time).

The Chicago touches are too much fun, like Mrs. Claus' gifting Barney with mace and a warning to watch out for the Wrigleyville Bros, and giving him a wad of cash to buy her HAMILTON tickets. Public transportation construction and gun violence jokes hit the mark with this home town audience too.

This parody is political without being heavy handed, (note the Trump bumper sticker on Junior's sleigh) and the "Make Christmas Great Again" and "War on Christmas" references. It's cathartic and spot on about the culture wars and the current climate toward LGBTQ people, and anyone not mainstream, rich, and capitalistic enough. 

(left to right) Dixie Lynn Cartwright and Roy Samra
All Photos by Carin Silkaitis

Particular standouts are the adorable, Roy Samra (also amazing in The CiviliTy of Albert Cashier) as Barney, Chicago drag sensation Dixie Lynn Cartwright (perfect mix of diva and true friend) returning as Zooey, Maggie Cain as (fierce, foulmouthed, badass mom & advocate) Mrs. Claus, and finally (the blonde Trumpster in training you love to hate) Jaron Bellar as Junior. I was especially impressed Dixie Lynn doesn't just lip synch, but actually sings, and her banter was fabulous.

In the end, love trumps hate. The bullies don't win for long. Barney gets the sleigh and the top spot in the north pole, his soul mate, and the love and respect of legions of elves, all while being true to himself. 

Obviously, leave the kids at home for this one. It's definitely "R" for content and language, but make for a great adult night out, with an enduring message of hope for the weird, quirky and different. And isn't acceptance and love what the Christmas spirit is truly about? 

(center) Maggie Cain with (left to right) Courtney Dane Mize, Cody Talkie, Colleen DeRosa, Lance Spencer, LiSean McElrath and Emilie Rose Danno

(left to right) Lance Spencer, Dixie Lynn Cartwright and Cody Talkie

Other Theatre is pleased to continue its 4th season with the third revival of its holiday hit BARNEY THE ELF, a campy and irreverent musical comedy, written by Bryan Renaud with lyrics by Renaud and Emily Schmidt. After helming the 2016 production, Tommy Rivera-Vega returns to direct and choreograph, with music direction by Nik Kmiecik and arrangements by Jermaine Hill. BARNEY THE ELF will play November 17 – December 30, 2017 at Other Theatre’s resident home, The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.  

Tickets are available at, in person at the Greenhouse Theater box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. Season subscriptions are currently available. 

BARNEY THE ELF will feature Roy Samra as Barney, Chicago drag sensation Dixie Lynn Cartwright returning as Zooey, Maggie Cain as Mrs. Claus, Jaron Bellar as Junior and Courtney Dane Mize as Cookie/Ensemble with Emilie Rose Danno, Colleen DeRosa, LiSean McElrath, Lance Spencer and Cody Talkie.

(pictured) Dixie Lynn Cartwright in Other Theatre’s production of BARNEY THE ELF

After Santa Claus retires, his wicked son begins a not-so-jolly reign as the new head of Christmas. The North Pole begins to crumble under his bigoted rule, and Barney the Elf is forced to leave his home for being different from the others. Soon he embarks on a fabulous journey of self-discovery (or is it elf-discovery?) that lands him in one of Chicago's hottest drag bars. But can he truly leave Christmas behind for a new life in the big city? BARNEY THE ELF brings pop-infused musical numbers galore and plenty of queer holiday cheer to Lincoln Park for the third year in a row! 

"Rather endearing [with] surprising emotional payoffs... Renaud and his collaborators may well have a fringe holiday repeat hit to call home for the holidays."  –The Chicago Tribune

The production team for BARNEY THE ELF includes Michael Johannsen (scenic design), Olivia Crary (costume design), Matthew Carney (lighting design), Ashley Pettit (sound design, production manager), Bobby Taves (asst. music director) and Meghan Erxleben (asst. lighting designer).


Location: The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
Dates: Preview: Friday, November 17 at 8 pm, Saturday, November 18 at 7 pm, Sunday, November 19 at 3 pm and Sunday, November 26 at 3 pm.
Press opening: Tuesday, November 28 at 8 pm
Regular run: Thursday, November 30 – Sunday, December 30, 2017
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Sunday, December 24 (Christmas Eve).

Tickets: Previews: $20 with code “PREVIEW.” Regular run: $25. Students $15 with code “STUDENT.” Industry $15 with code “INDUSTRY.” Tickets are available at, in person at the Greenhouse Theater Center box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. Season subscription are currently available.

(center) Roy Samra with (l to r) Lance Spencer, Colleen DeRosa, Cody Talkie, LiSean McElrath, Emilie Rose Danno and Courtney Dane Mize

Creative Team Bios
Bryan Renaud (Book and Lyrics) is the Associate Artistic Director of Other Theatre, where he has premiered his plays Barney the Elf and Other Letters, the latter co-written with Carin Silkaitis. He is also a founding member of Random Acts, where he premiered Strangest Things! The Musical, All Our Twilight and Ladies Night of the Living Dead. As a performer, Bryan has worked with American Theater Co., Pride Films & Plays, Provision Theater, Music Theatre Co., GreatWorks, Prologue Theatre, Shakespeare at the Centre, Oak Park Festival Theatre, NWaC and Two Pigs Productions.

Emily Schmidt (Lyrics) is a freelance playwright and grant writer based in Chicago. She earned her Masters in English from Loyola University. Other works include writing for Acid Reflux Comedy as well as the plays All Our Twilight, Awkward Family Gatherings and Strangest Things! The Musical. 

Tommy Rivera-Vega (Director) returns after directing the 2016 remount of Barney the Elf. He also directed the smash-hit world premiere Strangest Things! The Musical. Chicago Acting credits: Parachute Men, Between You Me and the Lampshade, A View From the Bridge, Momma’s Boyz – Teatro Vista; La Havana Madrid – Steppenwolf and Teatro Vista; Mother Road – Goodman Theatre; West Side Story – Drury Lane; In the Heights – Skylight Music Theatre; In the Heights, My Fair Lady – Paramount Theatre; Three Sisters – Steppenwolf Theatre; Kiss of the Spiderwoman – BoHo Theatre; Augusta & Noble – Adventure Stage; Pippin – Music Theatre Company; CATS – Theo Ubique; Puerto Rico credits: Spring Awakening, Footloose – Black Box Theatre. Episodic: Chicago PD (Ep 411). He is a proud Teatro Vista, Other Theatre Ensemble member and an Artistic Associate of Random Acts. Tommy is represented by Paonessa Talent Agency.

Nik Kmiecik (Music Director) is thrilled to be back with Barney the Elf in his new role of music director. He has music directed youth productions with SELF theatre and musical productions at his alma mater, North Central College in Naperville. Nik was an elf/ensemble member for Barney last year and has performed with numerous theatres in Chicago including Chicago Shakespeare, Chicago Children's Theatre, Filament Theatre, Haven Theatre, Silk Road Rising and Porchlight Theatre. Nik is an artistic associate of Other Theatre and is proudly represented by Stewart Talent.

About Other Theatre:

Other Theatre is dedicated to telling the stories of persons or groups who are othered by systems of oppression. Othering individuals or groups sustains power and privilege. Othering inherently implies hierarchy. Othering keeps the power in the hands of those who already have it.  Othering is an "us" vs. "them" mentality often centered around race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, identity, class, religion and ability. Other Theatre is committed to telling these stories in the hope that we can lessen the amount of discrimination and oppression in our world. 

We are a collective of artist-activists who believe in the power of theatre to enact social change. We believe in equality for all human beings and we will fight for it. We believe theatre is an excellent conversation starter, and we hope you will come talk with us after the show. We believe radical social change is possible and we will continue to stand up, fight, and resist until it happens.

Other Theatre Artistic Staff: 

Carin Silkaitis, Founder and Artistic Director; Maddie DePorter, Managing Director; Bryan Renaud, Associate Artistic Director; Ashley Pettit, Production Manager; Savanna Rae, Company Manager; Stephen Kossak, Casting Director; Becca Sheehan, Audience Development/Intern Coordinator; Tommy Varela, Social Media Coordinator; Kelly Howe, Resident Dramaturg; Tommy Rivera-Vega, Artistic Associate; Hannah Toriumi, Artistic Associate; Gay Glenn, Artistic Associate; Nik Kmiecik , Artitic Associate.

Other Theatre Board of Directors:

Michele Thornton, President; Kelly Soprych, Vice President; Jermaine Hill, Secretary; Stephen Silkaitis, Treasurer; Lisa Wolfe, Diane Sheehan and Michael Johannsen.

Other Theatre’s 4th Season is presented by generous grants from MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and The Saints.

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