THEATER | “A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol” has a little sumpin’ for everyone


Some of us feel a little out of the groove during the Christmas season. Maybe we don’t even celebrate it, or we refer to it as the dreaded “Hallmark Holiday.” It’s similar to feeling as if you’re a little out of the Minnesota groove: liking to go up north but not fishing or snowmobiling; growing up German Catholic with dark hair, not Norwegian Lutheran with blonde hair; appreciating Lake Wobegon but never, ever wanting to live there or be related to anyone who does. So for some, this season is as comfortable as a vacation on the Island of Misfit Toys.

But regardless of how you perceive Christmas or Minnesota, A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol by Phil Olson, now playing at the Hennepin Stages in Minneapolis, offers a buffet of funny and endearing experiences any of us can pick from and feel right at home.

As a musical production, it sings. Truly. The singing is great! The songs are clever. You can understand them! Each actor hits the notes, keeps the rhythms, and somehow manages to not get the giggles even when singing the hilarious lyrics from “Gramma Cut the Christmas Cheese” (which the audience gets to sing along to at the production’s end). The grumpy Gunner (Ross Young) is an every (real) man’s man: burly, stodgy, and an excellent Scrooge ripe for a metamorphosis executed a la Dickens. The adorable Clara (Bonni Allen)—who is as precious a personality as the sweet Clara in The Nutcracker—is his perfect opposite: spunky, perky, and happy. We see her share some chinks in her optimistic armor during conversations with Bernice (Emily Trempe), a friend who returns home after being “on tour” as a cabaret (well, er, Holiday Inn Lounge) singer. Bernice ran away with the karaoke sales man the year before leaving a broken hearted Kanute (Doug Anderson) behind. The ladies commiserate about men, while the men commiserate about women. Oh, and beer and money and business.

The story unfolds in the epitome of a northwoods bar, complete with details including the “Have a Crappie Day” sign, a Walleye Platter, $4.95 white board special, and—my favorite—a saw hand painted with a snowy barn scene. The audience sits on ever-so-fitting-for-this-play black vinyl diner chairs atop red plaid carpet. Perfect! The elements all come together and make it easy to get into a hokey-pokey mood.

a don’t hug me christmas carol, playing through january 3 at the hennepin stages theatre. for tickets ($22-$25) and information, see

Although the play follows the standard Christmas Carol plot with three ghosts visiting Gunner after he and his snowmobile fall into an ice hole, myriad musical numbers keep it fresh. Clara clearly projects both sadness at Gunner’s unfortunate accident and glee at the thought of possibly being rid of Mr. Crabby (should the coma turn into meeting the great fisherman in the sky). Bernice is hilarious as a Tiny-Tim-like character who uses physical humor reminiscent of Lucille Ball (really, she’s that good). Kanute plays a perfectly irritating Norwegian bachelor never missing a chance to be inappropriate, reminding us why he’s still single. As Sven, the man who is at the heart of Gunner’s angst, Dan Hopman plays a perfect trio of ghost personalities with perhaps the strongest being the Ghost of Christmas Future—who hilariously mentions that he’s in his “Black Sabbath” period as he plays the grim reaper.

There’s fart humor, sarcasm and sweetness, cheerleader moves, sincerity and corny-ness, there are numbers in traditional musical style as well as in rap style (well, not really, but ya know), and plenty of plaid along with a hot scanty elf costume on Bernice. In other words, there’s a little sumpin’ for everyone. A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol is a great way to get into the holiday spirit—or make fun of it, whichever you prefer.

This event 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 know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.