Step back in time, and spend an evening with the Marshall family. It’s 1910 at the Hotel Del Coronado, as Lamb’s Players Theatre presents its 19th annual “American Christmas.”
“Every year, we go back 100 years,” says Lamb’s artistic director Robert Smyth. “The structure of the evening stays the same, but the music, history, stories, character relationships and costumes morph with the times.”
In case you think 1910 seems a long, long time ago, here are a few eerily familiar events that were going on: there was an economic crisis in Greece ; Mexico was in chaos; there were major strikes in France .
And at home, Washington was one of the first states to give women the vote ( California was next, a year later). Halley’s Comet was seen, and the Boy Scouts were started (no direct relationship). “ America the Beautiful” was first set to music. And in San Diego , the U.S. Grant Hotel was built downtown. (The Hotel Del opened in 1888).
“From the minute you step in the door,” says Smyth, “you’re back 100 years in time, experiencing what it would have been like to celebrate the holidays with a family of means in a magnificent hotel. Before the media explosion, families would provide entertainment; they’d sing, dance, recite, tell jokes, play instruments. We wanted to capture that. But this show goes beyond the nuclear family to include the greater community. It’s all about what makes America great: the voices of different cultures, the fact that we’re all here from somewhere else.”
There’s an Italian cousin with limited English language skills. Smyth plays the Irish cousin “who tells stupid jokes.” Coursing throughout the family mayhem and reviews of the news, there is music – harp, piano, banjo, guitar, a capella singing and wonderful harmonies and arrangements (musical direction by Deborah Gilmour Smyth, who plays Mrs. Marshall, the gracious hostess of the evening).
The songs are always appropriate to the period. The medley of popular tunes from 1910 includes ‘Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey,” “I’m Henery the Eighth,” “Some of These Days” and “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.” There are barbershop quartets like “Sweet Adeline.” And Christmas songs such as “Santa Lucia” and “Silent Night.” And, oh yes, “The Grizzly Bear Rag,” one of the ‘animal dances’ of the era (others were the Turkey Trot and Bunny Hop).
The cast of 28 includes many returnees – as does the audience. Some even fly in from out of town to visit with the Marshalls again.
The multi-talented performers serve the gourmet, five-course dinner, too, and interact with their ‘guests,’ dressed in resplendent costumes (designed by Jeanne Reith). It’s a family affair that includes all ages and several real-life couples, like the Smyths . A new addition this year is Annie Buckley, the daughter of actor/singer/designer Mike Buckley.
“We wanted a sense of three generations of family, celebrated in all its diversity,” says Smyth.
It’s not quite dinner theater , nor is it a regular holiday show. “There’s really nothing else quite like it,” says Smyth. “Bring the family and experience it for yourself.”
“An American Christmas” runs December 12-26 in the Ballroom of the Hotel Del Coronado.