Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in Claremont without Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre’s annual all-new Christmas musical, and as in Christmas seasons past, this year’s It’s Christmas Every Day makes for two hours of song-and-dance-filled G-rated Christmas entertainment.
Admittedly, those in search of depth, drama, or three-dimensional characters will have to wait for next season’s Evita, In The Heights, or West Side Story to offer deeper, more dramatic fare. Not so the multi-generational family audience that fills every single Candlelight dinner table and booth Christmas season after Christmas season.
With holiday songs both familiar and unfamiliar arriving every five minutes or so like clockwork, Dustin Ceithamer choreographing with imagination and flair, and a troupe of triple-threats kicking up their heels, tapping their toes, and swirling and twirling about with non-stop pizzazz, grandparents, parents, and children alike can simply sit back and enjoy the nostalgic feel of an old-time MGM or Disney musical flick.
Book writers John LaLonde and Debbie Prutsman have set this year’s Christmas musical in Bethlehem—that’s Bethlehem, Pennsylvania—and more specifically at Walli’s Christmas Emporium, where it is indeed “Christmas Every Day” of the year, and whose staff find themselves in more than their usual annual tizzy this December 22, 1949.
Owners Mr. and Mrs. Walli (Jeffrey Warden and Beth Mendoza) have just discovered that due to a technical snafu, their twenty-five-year marriage was never actually legalized, hardly the kind of news a couple wants to hear just two days before their silver anniversary.
The Wallis’ aspiring ballerina daughter Bonnie (Jessie Parmelee) longs to star in the town’s annual Christmas ballet, but finds herself once again relegated to the ensemble.
Bonnie’s sister Billy (Carlin Castellano) despairs of always being considered the “brainy” one, no matter that handsome young employee Kirby (Frankie Marrone) clearly has his eyes set on her.
Catholic Sisters Margaret and Rebekah (Kate Shore and RaShonda M. Johnson) are none too happy to learn that the Christmas ornaments, knickknacks, and trimmings they ordered from Walli’s have arrived in boxes filled instead with Easter, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Fourth Of July decorations.
As for the nuns’ pintsized charge Lawrence Taylor (CJ Wright), the adorable ragamuffin can’t stop worrying that Daddy and Mommy, currently at the hospital awaiting the impending delivery of his brand new brother or sister, will forget him once the newborn babe arrives.
Completing the cast are postman Hank (Jonathan Arana), store employees Donny (Marius Beltran), Mary (Stephanie Inglese), Brian (Jared Ryan Kaitz), Alice (Katie McConaughy), Susie (Janissa Saracino), and Joe (Eric Taylor, who doubles as Lawrence’s daddy Mr. Taylor), and local residents Anna and Ben (Janice Lee and Robert Hoyt), whose disappearance early on surely has nothing at all to do with the Act Two arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Most delightful of all is Russian ballet maestro Dmitry Dingleslav (Emerson Boatwright), who shows up just in time to direct the “let’s put on a show” extravaganza that takes the place of plot post intermission.
With musical direction by Douglas Austin, the entire cast vocalize to perfection to “music by various artists,” from “Silver Bells,” the great big production number that starts things off with pizzazz to the White Christmas favorite “Sisters,” whose “Lord help the sister who comes between me and my man” becomes “Lord help the sister who comes between me and God’s plan” … for reasons that a glance at the above cast of characters should make perfectly clear.
Wright, who played a very young Michael Jackson in Candlelight’s The Sound Of Motown last year, belts out a “Jingle Bell Rock” that would do The Jackson 5 proud, Boatwright and a trio of beauties in candy-cane stripes jingle bells in the most unique of ways in “Ding-A-Ling,” and Marrone and Castellano sing and dance “I Love The Winter Weather” and “Too Marvelous” with footwork that would do Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds proud.
And let’s not forget the lovely Parmelee, who shows of expert balletic grace in Bonnie’s exquisitely danced solo number.
Under LaLonde’s able direction, Mendoza and Warden make for a delightful pair of longtime unmarrieds, Castellano and Marrone couldn’t be a more winning couple of singing-dancing charmers, and though this reviewer has seen more than enough singing nuns to last him a lifetime, the dynamic wimpled duo of Shore and Johnson sing quite marvelously.
Arana’s Hank shows off some gorgeous silver pipes, Wright gives young Michael J. a run for his money, and Parmelee and Boatwright are a charmingly mismatched pair of new sweethearts, the latter’s Dimitry mangling the English language so shamelessly that Boatwright’s becomes the evening’s standout performance.
Beltran, Inglese, Kaitz, McConaughy, Saracino, and Taylor prove themselves expert singer-dancers, and if a Wizard Of Oz number comes out of absolutely nowhere, it proves quite a showcase for their talents.
Lee, Hoyt, and Santa and Mrs. Claus as themselves complete the cast with abundant gusto.
Dwight Richard Odle’s set from a previous production has been expertly adapted by Chuck Ketter to fit the specifications of Walli’s Christmas Emporium with holiday lights and trimmings galore, a scenic design that Jonathan Daroca of SteveGDesign lights quite dazzlingly. Costumes by The Theatre Company (coordinated by Jenny Wentworth and Merrill Grady) make for one red-and-green 1940s treat after another. Mary Warde’s wigs are topnotch creations as well.
Daniel Moorefield is stage manager and Orlando Montes technical director. Michael Ryan’s expertise on the acoustic guitar provided a melodic musical backdrop to executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval’s scrumptious cuisine at the performance reviewed. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and artistic director John LaLonde.
It’s hard to believe that Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre has been giving its audiences an original Christmas musical for the past twenty-nine years, but it’s true, and next year’s Home For Christmas will make it thirty in a row!
Is it beginning to look (and sound) a lot like Christmas out Claremont way? It most certainly is!
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
December 7, 2014
Photos: John LaLonde