KPBS AIRDATE: DECEMBER 10, 1999
Tired of the same old Christmas classics? Well, there are three new kids in town, holiday confections written by local playwrights. Each has an uplifting theme, a bevy of beautiful voices, and at least one delightful child actor. In “Amelia’s Sugarplum Nightmare,” it’s 13 year-old Kelsey Anne Formost, who plays the title role in this twist on the Scrooge story, written with panache (and a good deal of historical research) by George Weinberg-Harter and Gail West. The bare-bones, community theater show is produced by the budding AMuse Theatre Company, in association with San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre.
The Magi take center stage here, visiting a young, skeptical girl by night, to explain the real reason for seasonal gift-giving, and to sing a humorous, anti-Santa rap/rant. One of the three Wise Men is a woman, and two of the three are the authors, joined by a delicious new musical theater find, jazz singer Jimmer Bolden, a man with stage presence and a glorious voice. Walter Murray is a hoot as the business-savvy Santa, who wheedles effortlessly out from the trio’s heinous condemnations. With some nips and tucks and fewer factoids, both Santa and Amelia may be welcomed back next Christmas.
A second holiday highlight offers a score of original, tuneful songs, in addition to a full complement of familiar carols. “Angels Among Us” is a promising, heart-warming musical about the significance of family — at holiday-time and any time. The megatalented writer/composer/director Leigh Scarritt crams some 50 kids and adults onto the small Coronado Playhouse stage for outstanding singing, and a few fine acting performances. The child standouts are Scarritt’s daughter Tiffany, Katie Heinemann, Amy Sterling and Alyssa Marie Webb, who plays Maggie, a 10 year-old who dies on Christmas Eve, hit by a car while trying out her new bike. She’s welcomed into heaven, but goes back down to help her family heal and move on. There’s a lot of hamming and posing here, but the kids are cute, and poignant performances are put in by Aaron Campbell and Shirley Giltner-Alfonso as Maggie’s grieving parents. Scarritt’s piece has a heart and a voice; the cast is uneven, there are too many front-facing solos, but the singing is lovely, and the costumes clever.
And finally, you can’t top the costumes or the singing or the set in Lamb’s Players 22nd Festival of Christmas. “All I Want for Christmas” is another original script, penned by Kerry Meads, with magnificent musical arrangements by Vanda Eggington. The musical numbers are traditional carols, but sung in a rousing, ’40s, boogie-woogie style by a terrific a capella quartet. Mike Buckley’s flawless diner set and Jeanne Reith’s gorgeous costumes capture the era impeccably, in this sentimental, overly long story of a struggling San Diego family, circa 1949, learning about the true meaning of Christmas giving. Nothing much happens for a long time, and there’s way too much local historical detail, but the piece is great to look at, and the cast is superb. Tim Manns is the fresh young performer to watch; also noteworthy are a couple of the older women in his life, Melissa Baldwin and Brenda Burke.
So, there’s plenty of reason to rejoice this season: new faces, new voices, new songs and new plays…there’s enough to make Scrooge and the Grinch watch their backs.
©2001 Patté Productions Inc.