Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“Another Night Before Christmas”

Highly Recommended***** As Halloween becomes a memory and a few left over candies still linger in our kitchen, and the smells of Thanksgiving will be in the air this week, we all know that the Christmas season is upon us- “hot and heavy”! There are many productions of “A Christmas carol”, “A Christmas Story” ( with a new musical adaptation on its way next week), many versions of “It’s A Wonderful Life-the radio show”, “A Christmas Schooner”, “White Christmas” and more. Every year, with the exception of this new adaptation of “A Christmas Story”, the local theaters hit us with productions, that while very worthwhile, are ones we have seen and in today’s economy, can people afford to revisit what they have already seen? Well, my friends, something new has just been introduced to us- a new Musical, “Another Night Before Christmas” written by Sean Grennan( book and lyrics) with music by Leah Okimoto and now onstage at Theater at the Center, that lovely and somewhat intimate space in Munster Indiana. FYI- Munster is just a short hop from downtown and today, I made it from Wilson and Clark the the theater in 48 minutes, so a short trip for quality theater and a marvelous new show for our area. Directed by William Pullinsi, this is a charming and quaint two person musical dealing with bringing the spirit back to Christmas, and let’s face it, in today’s world, many have either lost or are losing this spirit that makes Christmas, in fact, Christmas.

The set design by Bill Bartelt is wonderful, a lavish high rise condo in Chicago with a terrace overlooking the lakefront. The set cleverly takes out on the terrace by turning the actors to us for their scene on the terrace very stylish and clever). Brenda Winstead’s costumes are very realistic, in particular the Santa suit and a very neat Cubs sleep-set, Libby Fandrei and her crew do a sensational job of handling the props and Nicole Miller’s choreography works well for the numbers in this production. There are a lot of props! William A. Underwood and his orchestra make the music shine, but what really makes this show as strong as it is, is the two actors who have been cast in these meaty roles; Don Forston as “The Guy” and Hollis Resnik as Karol Elliot.

The story is about Karol, a busy, overworked and underpaid social worker who over the years has abandoned Christmas, feeling it is nothing more that a way for retailers to take needed money from shoppers. She is on her way home after leaving her office party with a bag full of leftover food when she encounters a scraggly bearded man sitting on the side of the street. She offer him the food feeling that this would help this homeless man on Christmas Eve. She proceeds home where she changes clothers , pours herself a wine and plays music ,avoiding and screening all phone calls. She truly wants to be alone. TV is loaded with Christmas stuff, so she ventures off to bed until she hears a noise and finds the man in the street, “The Guy” in her apartment, appearing to be a burglar. She calls police, he tells her he is Santa Claus and then we go on this merry ride as He tries to convince her that he is who he says and not some crazy loon who thinks he is Santa.

As they take this journey, each trying to reach the other, we see some changes in the personality of Karol and learn of a promise broken many years earlier that have created the Karol that we are seeing today. Can this “homeless man” really be Santa? Is there in fact a Santa Claus? that is what this story is all about- the spirit of Christmas and Santa Claus himself- why was he created, or was he created at all? Perhaps he does exist and all the fairy tales are not fairy tales. Can it be possible that Santa Claus lives? If not as a human, perhaps a spirit within our hearts. While this has soem reference to “Miracle on 34th Street( another great holiday classic) Forston are “top-notch” and while they are the only two actors on the stage, there are some vocals to add to the realisthis is a whole new outlook on the reality of a Santa and nicely done indeed. The more I think about this production and the story, the more I feel that this story is one of strength in our emotional being and that these two performers have the right chemistry to make it happen and one to put on your “to do” list. It is great family entertainment, a sparkling evening or afternoon that will put you into the true spirit of the holiday season. Not the “Black Friday” or the many catalogs and sales flyers that are assoicated with Christmas, but in fact the heart and soul of what the Holiday should mean to us all ( no matter what your ethnicity)! Resnik and Forston are magical together and while they are the only two actors onstage, there are others connected to the total production. TV Weatherman Tom Skillings does some great weather forecasts on this Christmas Eve ( recorded), other voices are done by Courtney Crouse,Mary Redmon and Robert Hildreth and off stage, but “live”Kathleen Gibson takes on the automated voice of the new burglar alarm system. She does a very nice job with this often cute “gimmick” that never overstays its welcome- part of the magic of the entire production which will continue at Theatre At The Center located at 1940 Ridge Road, just minutes from Rte 41 off of 94, in Munster, through December 18th ( too bad not through the entire holiday season) with performances as follows:

Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m.,Friday and saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

There are some Thursday evenings and Saturday matinees during the run, check out www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com for more info or to order tickest.

Tickets range from $36-$40 and are availabel at the box office , online  and by calling 800-511-1552 or 1-219-836-3255

Loads of free parking and on the way to the theater, lots of dining spots, to fit all budgets and don’t forget the money you will save by filling up and shopping in the area. The Center itself, The Center for Visual and Performing Arts has exhibits and a gift shop with some very affordable items. This is certainly worth the trip to Indiana.

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