Ham for the Holidays: Ham-ageddon
Assuming the world doesn't come to an end, Seattle audiences have all of December to catch "Ham for the Holidays: Ham-aggedon" at the Theatre off Jackson as Lisa Koch, Peggy Platt and their talented friends return to share this holiday tradition with theatergoers in search of two hours of laugh-therapy.
Each year's edition of "Ham" offers a selection of scripted comedy sketches packed with lively musical numbers, with touches of improv and audience participation added for good measure.
You know a show is going to have a busy run when there's a packed house at a Sunday matinee. At the showing we attended on December 2, the afternoon audience responded enthusiastically throughout the two-act program.
My partner and I picked up an extra ticket to treat a friend who had never seen Koch and Platt perform before, and our friend remarked how she knew they must rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, yet their performance appears effortless.
David Hunter Koch returns as director and choreographer while Bruce Hall and Michael Oaks join Platt and Lisa Koch to fill out this year's able cast of four, with Hall also playing keyboards and working behind the scenes as the show's music director.
Speaking of musical talent, Koch plays guitar and electric bass, and Platt keeps the audience smiling by adding skillful accompaniment on a range of instruments, including tambourine and mini-washboard.
Longtime fans of Koch and Platt will recognize a number of returning characters created by the comedy duo, from the 90-something ladies known as the Matrons of the Blues, to the always arguing mother and daughter pair of country-western singers, The Spudds.
The Spudds provide this year's bit of audience participation, as Mama Spudd is subjected to appearing on "The Mating Game" to meet three people she's been chatting with via an online dating website but has yet to meet in person. Platt brings just the right combination of flirtiness, flashiness and crankiness to Mama Spudd while Koch encourages the three audience members brought onstage as Mama's potential suitors.
Ham-ageddon brings back other familiar characters including the small yet bold Sequim Gay Men's Chorus and the 1970s-style husband and wife musical duo, The Colonel and Shenille.
The show opens on the water taxi between West Seattle and downtown Seattle, with The Colonel and Shenille attempting to entertain commuters who would rather be listening to their iPods or catching up on their reading.
As the Colonel, Koch is the leader of the throwback musical act with Platt as the ever-doting wife. "And you know more than I do," she says to the Colonel, when he explains that we have to trust politicians because "they know more than we do."
The costumes in this sketch are especially fun, with Platt decked out in a brightly colored dress accented with a pink flamingo belt "made from a pool noodle."
The most timely sketch is "The Nup Shack," which has Koch as wisecracking nun Sister Mary Agnes and Platt as recycling-obsessed Craft Lady joining together to open a one-stop wedding shop catering to gays and lesbians following the recent passage of Referendum 74, which legalized same-sex marriage in Washington state.
Oaks and Hall work well together in this sketch as a gay couple who stumble into The Nup Shack to find that one of their favorite sandwich shops has been converted into a mini-emporium of matrimony, decorated by Craft Lady with such flourishes as an archway made of toilet paper tubes.
In one of those moments you could only see in a Ham show, Koch as Sister Mary Agnes impersonates Elvis and sings "In the (Gay) Ghetto" as part of a demonstration of an Elvis-themed wedding package.
The sketch I liked best this year is Heartwood Mac. Platt gives a very funny performance as a Stevie Nicks-like singer while Koch combines Ann Wilson's hairdo and vocal style with Nancy Wilson's high kicks and guitar chops. The piece is a great showcase for Koch's range as a singer and skills as a guitarist, and the songs combine the music of Heart and Fleetwood Mac with laugh-out-loud lyrics.
As usual, while the performers hurry to change costumes between sketches, the audience is kept entertained by obscure video clips projected on a large screen at the back of the stage. I'm not sure who finds these vintage gems, but there's something new every year.
My favorite among this year's selections is a video clip from the 1980s of Mr. T, with the help of three back-up singers, doing a song about his respect for his mother and sporting the inexplicable wardrobe choice of camouflage-print running shorts.
It's this level of attention to the smallest details that makes Ham (forgive me!) a slice above.
"Ham for the Holidays: Ham-ageddon" plays through Dec. 30 at the Theatre off Jackson, 409 7th Ave S in Seattle. For info or tickets, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/277489.