Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre celebrates the holidays with a delightfully performed original musical certain to appeal to children and their grandparents (though perhaps not quite as much to those in-between).
The date is December 24, 1965 and North Pole Magazine reporter Sally Wilson (Kirklyn Robinson) and photographer Ned Miller (Victor Hernandez) have arrived at Santa’s home with a surprise for Mrs. Claus. She’s been chosen to become Queen For A Day, a “coronation” which will include (among other perks) a head-to-to makeover, and that means a groovy new ‘60s look for the wife of Old Saint Nick.
December 24 happens also to be the very last day of head elf Mr. Price’s (Neil Dale) lifelong service to Santa, at the end of which he will appoint a replacement among elves Mr. Dingle (Jordan Lamoureux), Mr. Tingle (Frankie Marrone), Mr. Evergreen (Tim Martin), and Mr. Yule (James McGrath) and elvettes Miss Holly (Emily Dauwalder), Miss Ivy (Kailyn Elliott), Miss Tinsel (Shai Louise), and Miss Noel (Kylie Molar).
Written (and directed with flair) by John LaLonde, A Christmas To Remember’s couple dozen songs range from seasonal favorites like “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” “Grown Up Christmas Wish,” “Feliz Navidad,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” to ‘60s hits like “I’m A Believer” and “A Taste Of Honey” to movie and Broadway musical gems including “If I Could Talk To The Animals” and “Racing With The Clock” to a number of less familiar Christmas tunes like “How I Love That Christmas Feeling” and “Everybody’s Waiting For The Man With The Bag.”
With the scene-stealing Dale in charge, Broadway’s Hernandez and local favorite Robinson providing the romance, an octet of terrifically talented young triple-threats expertly executing Allison Hooper’s lively, toe-tapping, high-kicking choreography, A Christmas To Remember is best in its many crowd-pleasing song-and-dance numbers.
Cornier scenes involving a series of plus-sized female visitors sent by the Queen For A Day team to remake Mrs. Santa aren’t quite as successful, nor is a subplot involving Sally’s abandoned childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian. Another subplot revolving around Mrs. Santa’s inability to remember how to make her trademark Christmas cookies seems rather insubstantial as well, or at least until an surprise eleventh hour plot twist makes it all make sense.
Children will love getting to see Santa and his elves in their North Pole abode and actually getting to visit it in a fun, breaking-the-fourth-wall scene near the end of the show. Anyone who’s gotten his or her invitation to join AARP will be of age to recollect the 1960s holiday TV specials which A Christmas To Remember recalls, and will likely chuckle at references to The King Family, Ann Miller, and the 1956-1964 daytime TV favorite which gave down-on-their-luck American housewives a chance to be crowned Queen For A Day.
Younger, hipper audiences won’t know Ann Miller from Anne Murray and may find A Christmas To Remember a tad too wholesome for their musical theater tastes, and parents in their 20s to 40s may wish for the kind of whoosh-over-the-heads-of-kids humor that make Disney and Pixar animated features as popular with adults as they are with children.
Where there can be no need to cavil is with performances. Dale proves himself an infectiously likeable showman par excellence, Robinson and Hernandez are vocally adept charmers, and all eight elves about as triple-threat-tastic as they come, with special snaps to a spotlighted Lamoureux’s “I’m A Believer,” sure to ring a nostalgic bell with 50/60something Monkees fans. All of Mrs. Santa’s female visitors (including egocentric film diva Ginger Martin) were brought zestfully to life at the performance reviewed by an effervescent Kate Lee. Santa and Mrs. Claus appear quite winningly as themselves.
Musical director Douglas Austin elicits fine vocal performances from the cast. Jenny Wentworth has designed a wonderful bunch of costumes, from North Pole elfwear to Santa (and Mrs. Santa) garb to ‘60s chic and not-so-chic, and as always Cliff and Kat Senior’s wigs are a treat to behold. Chuck Ketter’s colorful set looks like it would have been right at home on a 1960s TV special. Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting makes all of the above look absolutely fabulous.
Candlelight Pavilion deserves major snaps for offering family audiences an alternative to all the Christmas Carols and Nutcrackers that fill our stages from Thanksgiving to the New Year. Though perhaps not for audiences of all ages, A Christmas To Remember seems likely to give kids and nostalgic seniors a matinee or evening to remember.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.