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THEATER REVIEWS

A 'Christmas' Full of Campy Parody

December 11, 1996

"Christmas With the Crawfords," a perennial in San Francisco for the last five Christmases, gusts into town for a limited run at the Hudson.

Full of Christmas spirit and extravagant drag turns, this campy musical parody by Wayne Buidens and Mark Sargent is reminiscent of the traditional British panto--with a bracing chaser of bitchiness for those maxed-out by the season's sentimentality.

On the career skids, Joan (played with hyper-thyroidic panache by Paul Anelli) tries to bolster her fading image with a Christmas Eve radio broadcast from her Brentwood home. The show's host, Hedda Hopper (the magnificently towering Kitty Cole) coolly presides over the hysteria as Joan gets progressively more drunk and more controlling, while various "uninvited celebrity guests" crash the scene en route to Gary Cooper's bash next door.

This flimsily structured spoof, tightly directed by Richard Hochberg, provides the excuse for a hilarious cast to do takeoffs on old Hollywood stars, complete with Christmas standards featuring naughty new lyrics. The uncredited costumes are spectacular enough for an old MGM production number, and Matthew Martin raises goose bumps as Bette Davis (playing Baby Jane Hudson, no less).

* "Christmas With the Crawfords," Hudson Avenue Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Fridays, 10:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 and 10 p.m.; Dec. 22 at 7 and 9 p.m.; Dec. 26-27 at 8 and 10 p.m. Ends Dec. 28. $15-$22. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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