THEATER | “A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol” at New Century Theatre: Minnesotan spin on a classic story


DHM productions reprises its holiday show, A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol, this year at the New Century Theatre, located in City Center in downtown Minneapolis. Although I found the show to be disappointing in parts, for someone looking for a light-hearted parody of Northern Minnesota culture, this is it. Many members of the sold-out audience appeared to immensely enjoy this comedy.

The play is a small-town Minnesotan version loosely based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In this production, Gunner Johnson (Ross Young) plays the Scrooge character. Gunner is the owner of the failing Bunyan bar. He is also frustrated by the fact that he and his wife Clara (Bonni Allen) have been unable to have children. Other characters include Kanute Gunderson (Doug Anderson), a friend and customer who never pays his bill, and Bernice Lundstrom (by Emily Trempe), a would-be singer who came back to town to get her previous waitress job at the Bunyan. While Clara, Kanute and Bernice are filled with the Christmas spirit and merrily decorate the bar, Gunner’s frustrations and lack of holiday spirit leads him to take a ride on his snowmobile. He ends up falling through a hole in the lake ice and hovers near death. 

While lying comatose in the hospital, Gunner is visited in a dream by Sven Yorgenson (Michael Lee), his former musical partner who once dated Clara and cheated him out of song royalties.  Sven, who exhibits the greasy persona of a slick lounge singer, is Gunner’s guide through Christmases past, present and future. Sven also emerges as a character in Christmas present, visiting Clara and making a play for her while her husband lies in a coma.

The show entails high quality performances by all the actors, and the singing of both Allen and Trempe are top notch. About half of the songs I found to be entertaining, but just as many seemed to be fillers. The two best tunes were “I’d Rather be Naughty” and “What would Barbra Streisand Do?” Both songs were performed by Trempe, with some quick poster changing work in the background by Allen.

DHM productions has done several “Don’t Hug Me” titled productions over the years, but this is the first time I have attended one. The book and lyrics for theses shows are written by Phil Olson who is originally from Edina, Minnesota. Music is written by Paul Olson, a M.D., who still lives in Minnesota.

The set construction by Ross Young effectively provides a familiar looking Northern Minnesota beer bar, including old time knickknacks and decorations. Way to one side of the stage is a possessed karaoke machine that starts playing tunes whenever it recognizes words that correspond to song titles. It is the first time I have seen a production in the New Century Theatre space and I was pleasantly surprised as to how great of a theatre space it provides for smaller theatre productions. 

This production is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you’ll know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

This production can be seen using discount vouchers from the Daily Planet’s Theater All Year program—six vouchers for just $99.

(The Theater All Year program is run independently of the Daily Planet’s editorial coverage, and participation in the program does not affect the likelihood or content of any Daily Planet previews or reviews.)

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