Lee Gibson, Chris Wagner, Amy Tomey, Elizabeth Tomey, & Kelly Kapp. Photo: Bill Baker
A Christmas Survival Guide
Written by James Hindman and Ray Roderick
Directed by Jeff Mangum
A review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
Who among us hasn’t desired a quickset of instructions and tips to survive the joyous holiday season that is often rife with an influx of cooking, packing, shopping, wrapping, visiting, and merry-making? All of this fun and excitement can get overwhelming, so a profiteering author named Dr. Ted, comes up with a survival guide of what one can do to survive the onslaught and shares platitudes that help to motivate and/or remind you of the Reason for the Season.
The musical begins with a voice-over of Dr. Ted alerting his caller that he is unavailable due to the holidays, but encourages the caller to purchase his newest book “A Christmas Survival Guide”. Throughout the show vignettes and musical numbers are centered on the advice and stories that the disembodied Dr. Ted shares. He begins by telling us to be sure to give ourselves affirmations. I believe in that. He also tells the audience to take charge of our destinies and to make this the best Christmas ever.
The cast of six does not have any character names, per se, save for Elizabeth Tomey using her own name at one point. Joining Ms. Tomey on stage is Patti Nuermburger as the accompanist, Kelly Kapp, Amy Tomey, Lee Gibson, and Chris Wagner. Each performer plays various parts in over 10 vignettes. Some of the pieces are sentimental in nature such as Elizabeth Tomey’s “Christmas Clichés” and Ms. Kapp’s “Little Girl Blues”, while others have a bit of comedic spin like Liz Tomey and Chris Wagner’s “Best Christmas Ever”. When Amy Tomey corrected her fellow singers with the appropriate lyrics to “Feliz Navidad” I felt a collective reaction from the audience as in “Aha, that’s how that goes!”
Surprisingly, there are a few instances where there are some risqué suggestions thrown in such as in Lee Gibson’s “Santa Claus is Back in Town”, and “Sleigh Ride” had a bon mot that while expected, didn’t need to be included.
While there is some comedy and sentimentality there are also nods to the spiritual side as well, such as when Ms. Nuermberger recited one of the most famous soliloquies of the season, the scripture that the character Linus recites in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. As the show began to close, we were treated to perhaps the best solo of the evening from Chris Wagner performing “O Holy Night”.
On paper, this seems like the musical could be fun and campy because honestly some of the songs were quite good, unfortunately, the singing/acting did not rise up to the quality that I have previously enjoyed from Little Colonel Playhouse.
Often pitches and keys were not heard and the singers were scattered in their harmonies and melodies and even the accompaniment was discordant at times. Now, it wasn’t all gloomy, there were actually some very nice musical moments, but not as many as I had hoped. While I enjoyed “O Holy Night” as a solo, the addition of the choral background was not necessary.
By golly, I know that each and every person on that stage was giving it their all and acting/singing for all their worth, but in brutal honesty, the production truly needs a bit more work. The staging was clunky and marks seemed to be second-guessed.
The set design was actually quite nice and functional and Kevin Bushong’s lights and sound were well chosen too, except for a few miscues from Dr. Ted.
Mr. Mangum and the cast and crew, I appreciate the time and work that you put into this production but it does not rise to your best works. I hope that you will be able to make some adjustments and improvements in the coming week. It is not all a Bah Humbug from me, I was just left wanting for a little more.
A Christmas Survival Guide
December 6, 7, 12, 13, & 14 @ 7:30pm
December 8 & 15 @ 2:00pm
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, Kentucky 40056
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.