The Christmas season has arrived in Claremont, and with it Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre’s 30th-annual original holiday musical, and though Home For Christmas may not offer the grown-up pleasures of 2014’s It’s Christmas Every Day and 2013’s Because It’s Christmas, Candlelight’s latest nonetheless provides ample reason for families with children to treat themselves to lunch or dinner and a show at the Pavilion.
This year’s Christmas musical takes us back to New York City circa 1948, where big-bucks businessman Edward Bramston II (Robert Hoyt) is throwing the family’s annual dance party to celebrate “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.”
Among the revelers at Bramston’s palatial mansion are his son and heir Edward III (Stanton Kane Morales), Edward III’s hoity-toity wife Florence (Candice Rochelle Berge), and their flibbertigibbet of a teenage daughter Elizabeth (Hannah Wolgemuth), all three of whom would like nothing better than to enjoy the last few days before Christmas in the lap of Manhattan luxury.
Patriarch Edward II has other plans for them however, dispatching Edward III and his brood to the Maine cabin occupied by his step-sister Bertie Bramston (Beth Mendoza) and her soon-to-be-completely-blind teen ward Emma Withers (Jaidyn Young).
It seems that gold has recently been discovered in them thar Maine hills and Edward III has just three days to convince Aunt Bertie to sell—without of course revealing the motives behind the family’s desire to buy.
Adults in the audience will relish the multiple inconveniences suffered by big city folk stranded in Hicksville. (They’ve got to boil water for their baths, there’s nothing at all gourmet about Bertie’s bacon-and-eggs breakfasts, and forget about electricity, though that at least has been promised to arrive on Christmas Eve.)
As the New York Branstons attempt to hoodwink their country kin, their young chauffeur Charlie (Adam Trent) bonds with Emma while Bertie’s handyman Hank (Chris Duir) does the same with Elizabeth, who can’t believe that her year-younger cousin still plays with dolls.
Then again, who wouldn’t want a family of toys who come to life after dark to entertain their owner in song and dance?
Jack and Jill (Marius Beltran and Marie Gutierrez), Princess (Jessie Parmelee), Queen (Rachel McLaughlan), Shirley as in Temple (Katie McConaughy), Johnny as in Appleseed (Michael Gonzalez), Jester (Jabriel Shelton), and Chap as in Chaplin (Marcos Alexander) are just about the best companions any girl could wish for, or at least they are until Elizabeth throws them out into the snow in an attempt to get Emma to grow up and act her age.
Cut to the North Pole, where Santa’s elves (Alexander, Beltran, Gonzalez. Gutierrez, Parmelee, McLaughlan, McConaughy, and Shelton) are hard at work (and song-and-dance) because (in case you haven’t heard) when someone throws out a toy by mistake, that toy is sent back to the North Pole to be recycled.
Meanwhile back down in Maine, Edward II keeps on maneuvering while Bertie keeps on resisting his efforts to get her to sell, while plans for a great big Christmas Eve party get derailed by the news that none of the invited guests will be able to come.
To find out what happens next, audience members will have to come back after intermission for a second act that features what Candlelight regulars have come to expect over the past three decades, the arrival of Santa and his Mrs. (the duo play themselves) and the chance for children in the audience to head up onstage to meet the roly-poly duo.
Once again book writers John LaLonde and Debbie Prutsman are to be saluted for coming up with an original storyline (Candlelight touts thirty years straight without a repeat script) and for finding ingenious ways to insert favorite and lesser-known holiday tunes along the way.
Still, with singing-dancing elves and toys so prominently featured, this year’s Christmas show aims for a younger demographic than the last couple years’ extravaganzas, which might make it less up the alley of teens and older.
Then again, Christmas at Candlelight Pavilion is all about families, and most audience members will likely be there with kids in tow. As for those of an older bent, the triple-threats up on stage have more than enough talent to keep audiences of all ages entertained during song-and-dance numbers, of which there are many, performed to Dustin Ceithamer’s delightfully lively choreography with musical director Douglas Austin insuring terrific vocalizing throughout.
Under LaLonde’s assured direction, the entire cast shines, from Young’s sweet, spunky Emma to Mendoza’s warmth-exuding Aunt Bertie to Morales’s commanding Edward III to Berge’s snobbish Florence to Wolgemuth’s spoiled-rotten Elizabeth to the Bobby Van-Donald O’Connor duo of Duir and Trent as Hank and Charlie. Hoyt scores too in his cameo as Edward III, though his gorgeously sung “Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” seems out of character for such a moneygrubber.
Hoyt and Party Guest Janice Lee return unbilled in Act Two, which is probably why, not surprisingly, Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus perform to perfection as themselves.
As for the hand-picked Best-Of-Candlelight song-and-dance ensemble, Alexander, Beltran, Gonzalez. Gutierrez, Parmelee, McLaughlan, McConaughy, and Shelton are each and every one a triple-threat-tastic holiday delight.
Scenic designer Chuck Ketter’s set has just the right big city-to-small town wintry, rustic look, costumes coordinated by Jenny Senior and Merrill Grady have a festive period flair (with added snaps for the show’s elves-&- toys-wear), and both set and costumes have been lit to perfection by Steve Giltner, lighting design provided by StreetLite LLC. Mary Warde gets high marks for her multiple wigs as well, though naturally Santa and Mrs. Claus sport their own distinctive tresses.
Daniel Moorfield and Daniel Bride are stage managers. Orlando Montes is technical director. Executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval serve up Candlelight’s invariably yummy cuisine. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and especially to artistic director LaLonde.
Though not as adult-pleasing as Candlelight Christmases 2013 and 2014, Home For Christmas 2015 is nonetheless a splendidly performed, holiday-hit-filled evening or afternoon of Christmas cheer, especially for families with kids twelve and under.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
December 17, 2105
Photos: Demetrius Kastantonis