Dramatic Fun For the Whole Family
Lamb’s Players Theatre’s 33rd “Festival of Christmas” delivers the goods
There are many traditions this time of year – and one of the most reliably enjoyable is Lamb’s Players Theatre’s Festival of Christmas. Thirty-three years, 14 scripts, a never-ending array of Christmas songs and beautiful arrangements. The shows may be a tad corny or old-fashioned, but they provide wholesome family entertainment, and the singing is always superb.
This year’s installment was last seen about five years ago. “It’s Christmas—and it’s Live!” sounds like a Sasquatch story, or something to do with Bigfoot, the Reindeer. But it’s set in a New York TV studio, circa 1952, on Christmas Eve, before a holiday broadcast of “The Festival of Popular Song” show (that’s where the LIVE part comes in).
As in several other of Kerry Meads’ holiday scripts (she’s Lambs’ associate artistic director and resident playwright), there’s a blizzard, and the disparate people gathered together in the room (beautifully designed by Mike Buckley, with wonderfully detailed props by Michael McKeon ), are trapped, stuck, forced to make do. Which means they sing a lot of holiday songs, some generic, some religious, many a capella , a few solos, with guitar backup at times (thanks to cast member Nick Spear) and lots of tasty harmonies.
There’s a happily-ever-after, everyone-finds-love ending, though the piece goes on a tad too long. and it makes a serious tonal shift in the second act, veering from antic mayhem to a more serious, somber, even maudlin section, with a Korean War soldier tribute and a musical telling of the Christmas story (à la Luke).
In the funny, fast-paced first act, the egotistical director (is that redundant??), excellently portrayed by David Cochran Heath, becomes hysterical in the face of thwarted plans and potential disaster if they do go on the air, with short staff and inexperienced performers. But the show does go in, in a different way, and folks are changed – and bonded – by the experience.
The direction (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) and choreography (Colleen Kollar Smith) are sprightly, the cast of ten is delightful, and the singing is first-rate (musical direction by Jon Lorenz). The costumes (Jeanne Reith) are a hoot, from the nerdy plaids on the Harmonaires – direct from Dubuque , Iowa – to the dancing teeth and toothbrush for the commercials that pepper the TV show.
Jacob Caltrider has a terrific turn as the beleaguered tech guy who has a total meltdown. Rebecca Spear is funny as the ultra-perky gofer, Marcie. Meads is almost all-business as the director’s right-hand gal (and sometime squeeze).
Nick Spear plays the smarmy, crooning TV host, who takes to one of the tight- harmonied Iowans (the wrong one, as it turns out). He starts out as something of a diva ( divo ?), and then, in a sharp character transformation, suddenly turns into Mr. Nice Guy.
But you don’t come to a holiday musical for character motivation and deep introspection. At Lamb’s Players, it’s all for fun — and fun for all.
Lamb’s Players’ Festival of Christmas, “It’s Christmas – and it’s Live !, ” runs through December 29.
Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 4pm and Sunday at 2 and 6pm.
Tickets ($28-58) are available at 619-437-6000 or www.lambsplayers.org