If you find yourself at loose ends tonight, I have an idea for you. Why not ring in 2013 with “Happy Crazier New Year”? It’s a zany hour-and-a-half: part improv, part musical sketch comedy, fueled by audience participation, sight gags and clever slapstick. The show, directed by company founder Tyler Olsen, is a follow-up to last year’s “Happy Crazy New Year,” marking Happy Minnesota’s eighth production in venues along the Central Corridor – their first full year of shows “driving laughter, people and money to University Avenue.”
Funded in part by Springboard for Arts and Irrigate (both Knight Arts grantees), Happy Minnesota’s offerings are as much about community building as they are about theater. The shows tend to follow a loose narrative line where the particulars and sequence of events are fluid, changing from night to night according to audience vibe and reaction. The plot for “Happy Crazier” is wholly silly and almost beside the point, but here’s the gist: a family of four misfit Russian cosmonauts – Tatyana Molotov, Nikolay, Gherman and Vaklav Happy – take to the heavens in pursuit of menacing space frogs and true love in a dilapidated Soviet-era ship that runs on radioactive bananas, with frequent breaks for vodka shots, games and assorted clowning around.
“Happy Crazier New Year” consists of a series of vignettes, heavily accented Russian songs and audience participation games, all well-lubricated with both booze and good humor and backed by a wickedly campy mid-20th century Euro-pop soundtrack. The set is spare – ad hoc, really: on one side of the stage sit crates of bananas, stacked shoulder-high; nearby are a few large, empty plastic garbage bins. Center stage is a black bench and picnic table, bearing a full bottle of vodka and a shot glass, alongside some simple, white, plastic buckets. These basic props get moved around and cleverly repurposed through the night as needed for games or staging. At the front of the stage, facing the audience, is a simple stand with a button marked “Dance Party”; at any point in the evening’s proceedings, audience and cast are free to push said button, bringing all the action to a halt for one song while audience and cast pile onstage to get a groove on.
“Happy Crazier New Year” is a delightful trifle, imaginative and athletic and unabashedly goofy – an entirely appropriate way to bid farewell to the politically fractious, economically beleaguered year just passed, if you ask me. If you go, you’ll undoubtedly get more out of the experience if you abandon your inhibitions at the door and join in for the show’s various reindeer games, but there’s no pressure if you’re not so inclined. Audience members are welcome to participate or not as the mood strikes, and there’s great fun to be had, even if you’re the sort who prefers to hang back and watch.
“Happy Crazier New Year” closes tonight, December 31, 8 p.m. at Gremlin Theatre, 2400 University Avenue, St. Paul. The show will be immediately followed by a New Year’s Eve party for which all in attendance are invited to stick around. Ticket information: http://www.happymn.com/get-tickets.html.