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Christmas in Hell

Delightful new musical comedy about a father who has to challenge Lucifer in order to get back his son after he eats some poisoned fruitcake at Christmas time.

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Dathan B. Williams, Zak Risinger, Scott Ahearn and Ron Wisniski in a scene from the new musical comedy “Christmas in Hell” at The York Theatre Company (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]The holiday season is in for an irreverent satirizing in Gary Apple’s musical comedy Christmas in Hell, a rude and entertaining fable for adults. With book, music and lyrics by Apple, a writer/producer for television, the show now being produced by The York Theatre Company is a diverting antidote to all the mindlessly clichéd holiday cheer that is everywhere. With some clever lyrics, hummable tunes and a colorful cast of characters, Christmas in Hell is a delightful little musical parody which is a change of pace for the season before us. It does require a good deal of suspension of belief of both kinds.

Single parent Richard Mattlin (Scott Ahearn) receives a call from his son Davin’s elementary school that he has been acting peculiarly, unlike any student they have ever seen before. After an informational session with Principal Bolton and two of his teachers, Richard is asked to speak to Detective Zanderhoff (Dathan B. Williams) of the Hate Crimes Division. To his questions as to whether Davin has a typical home environment or has any satanic influences, Richard at first claims not to know what he is talking about but then tells his own tale of a visit to Hell to retrieve the soul of his son.

Apparently, Davin ate some poisoned re-gifted Christmas fruitcake and ended up in a coma. When he recovered, he seemed possessed both in his talk and desires. When Davin insists he has met Lucifer, Richard visits the church of Father McDuffy who had visited him in the hospital. No one at the church is able to help him, but a lost soul he meets on the way out leads him to a satanic cult and one two three, he is in Hell where he makes a deal with a friendly but devious Lucifer.

Brandon Williams in a scene from the new musical comedy “Christmas in Hell” at The York Theatre Company (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Deals do not always go as planned and Richard has to make a second visit to Hell to get out of the deal that he has made where he must bargain for his son in which he uses the real meaning of love. Along the way he meets The Dark Priest, the glamorous Galiana and Carl the Bogeyman who all have special powers. Ultimately, the message is that too much Christmas is too much for anyone and it is a good thing that it only comes once a year. Among the famous and infamous figures that come into play are Charles Manson, Leona Helmsley and Sean Hannity.

Apple’s songs tend to give away their punchlines in the titles (“My Favorite Place,” “When Your Hands Are Too Big,” “Nobody Knows,” etc.) However, sometimes this works well for him. As Davin’s elderly teacher who has seen it all, Donna English has a field day with “Mrs. Huvey’s Complaint.” Tremendously talented Elijah Rayman as eight-year-old Davin sends his legit voice to the rafters with his “Somebody Owes Me a Christmas” after he wakes up from his coma sometime after December 25. Lori Hammel as the glamourous Galiana with purple hair and beautifully gowned, devours the stage with her “There Is Nothing More That I Can Say.”  Hammel and Zak Risinger as Carl the Bogeyman, the keeper of the Gates to the Underworld, have a charming romantic duet with “Hell Will Be Heaven with You.”

The show is stolen by the second act appearance of Lucifer played by the devilishly sexy Brandon Williams who gives a performance in the same style as his evil, over- the-hill rocker in Gettin’ the Band Back Together only a few months ago. Dressed in red and black pleather over an S&M harness, Williams is a suave, sophisticated villain. He knocks his one solo, “Mine!,” out of the ball park and certainly runs rings around poor Richard. Of course, it is that kind of role and we have been waiting for his entrance all evening. Ironically, as played by Scott Ahearn the put-upon Richard caught up in this satanic/film noir adventure is rather bland.

Lori Hammel and Zak Risinger in a scene from the new musical comedy “Christmas in Hell” at The York Theatre Company (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

In the one role not to have a solo, Dathan B. Williams brings a 1940’s weariness to Detective Zanderhoff, while Risinger is amusing as his always confused Officer Epstein. Ron Wisniski plays a series of authority figures (Principal Bolton, Father McDuffy, etc.) with great stage presence. Aside from Ahearn and Rayman, all of the other actors double and triple in roles, often making themselves unrecognizable from their earlier appearances. In particular, English goes from the somewhat prissy and pedantic Mrs. Huvey to the stylish God dressed in all white who radiates power.

James Morgan’s orange, pink and beige picture book-cutout setting which eventually turns red and purple for the scenes in Hell is as colorful as Tyler M. Holland’s pitch-perfect costumes for each disparate character type without at all being clichéd. Yael Lubetzky’s lighting cleverly enhances the mood of each scene. Logan Medland who is responsible for the arrangements and musical supervision leads the four piece band on the keyboard in the bouncy, pleasant and varied score. Director Bill Castellino, who has previously directed the York hits Desperate Measures, Cagney, Marry Harry, Jolson and Storeyville, has staged the show with a light touch which suits the material to a tee. Not for those looking for a serious evening in the theater, Christmas in Hell is a delightfully devilish antidote to all of the traditional music and sentiments one hears at this time of year. The off-color language and the nonconformist ideas make this not suitable for children unless they are more sophisticated than most.

Christmas in Hell (through December 30, 2018)

The York Theatre Company, 619 Lexington Ave at 54th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-935-5820 or visit

Running time: two hours and five minutes including one intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (991 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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