They called it the Roaring 20s for a reason.

It was the great celebration of life following World War I. But in the United States it was also the great era of Prohibition — where the production and consumption of alcohol was banned in many states.

Hamilton's Riverlea Theatre will present Zoot Suit Xmas, a wild rampage of song and dance based on Chicago where alcohol was trafficked by gangsters and consumed by nervous punters in illicit bars and 'speakeasies'.

Director Greg Hack said the idea for the show was put to the Riverlea board in September last year and auditions began in July this year.


Written in 2005 by Hamilton playwright and actor Michael Switzer, Zoot Suit Xmas was previously staged by Riverlea in 2006.

The story follows the cat and mouse contest based around Bugsy's Malarkey back-ally club — a take on the activities of real 20s era mobster Bugsy Moran.

"Bugsy is trying to build a reputation for running one of the top speakeasies while battling Federal prohibition agents led by Eliot Ness, dealing with bootleg liquor runners and fending off the attentions of Al Capone and other gang-land high-rollers," Hack said.

Zoot Suits, recognised by their high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed trousers and long coats, were outlawed during World War II as using too much cloth.

Zoot Suit Xmas has been a super-charged collaborative effort requiring the cast to learn many popular tunes and to dance. Wardrobe mistress Robyn Winder was tasked with producing 90 per cent of the costumes while choreographer Shanelle Borlais and vocal director Melissa Nicholson put the cast members through their paces.

"We have a lot of new faces on stage who have worked very hard to create a great performance. The show is a humorous look at a very tumultuous time in US history. It has lots of opportunity for audience participation and sing-alongs to tunes like Peggy Lee's Fever and Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer, Hack said.

On for nearly a month, Zoot Suit Xmas is Riverlea's big fund-raiser for the year — an important event as the theatre society is keen to progress the first stage of its long-awaited re-build of Riverlea Theatre.

Zoot Suit Xmas, Riverlea Theatre, written by Michael Switzer, directed by Greg Hack, production Jane Barnett, choreography Shanelle Borlais, Vocal director Melissa Nicholson, Nov 17 — December 15, dinner and show, Nightly prizes for best dressed in period. Bookings or call the theatre 07 856 5450.