The Pageants of Chesapeake Christmas

 Vol. 9, No. 48
November 29 - December 5, 2001 
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Take One or More As Needed to Relieve Stress
and Promote Holiday Cheer
by Shirley Brewer

Each December, a round of familiar holiday pageants returns to renew our lives through the magic of the arts. Our Frosty Follies, Nutcrackers, Christmas Carols, It’s a Wonderful Life — and new to Chesapeake Country this year, Little Women — are traditions we look forward to each year. Like you, we buy our tickets early, for, like yours, our holidays just wouldn’t be the same without them.

These annual experiences comfort us like the seasons, returning in familiar cycle. They bring us a welcome escape, opportunity to relax and carefree moments to share with people we love. But there’s more to this magic that touches us anew each year.

Part of the magic is children. Starring in each production, they rekindle memories of our own past and restore our hope for the future.

Another part is second chances. Hard-hearted old Scrooge gets three ghostly visits. Down-on-his luck George Bailey is befriended by an angel. Seeing their deliverances, it’s just possible for each of us to believe that we, too, are not alone and to hope our second chance will come.

Strength in unity is another part of the magic of these annual Christmas visitors. On stage, families, communities and men and women with full plates of troubles triumph through the love they share. Behind stage, dozens of real people set aside their own trials, troubles and joys, joining together to remind us that the Gift of Christmas comes from the heart.

If ever we need to be touched by magic, this is the year. Now, just in time, come the pageants of Christmas …

‘People go home refreshed,’ says Scrooge.
Colonial Players: A Christmas Carol
Bah, Humbug! Will we never tire of Ebeneezer Scrooge? For over 20 years, Colonial Players of Annapolis has presented the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol to grateful audiences that return December after December.

Early on November 17, Carol hopefuls queued for blocks outside Colonial Players’ box office, off State Circle on East Street, for tickets to this perennial favorite. Audiences have been just as faithful for 158 years. Dickens’ 1843 tale of the redemption of a hard-hearted miser scored immediate and lasting success. Times were different then, and Dickens was writing to improve conditions for England’s huge, impoverished underclass. But the story he created — and the characters who bring it to life again each year — capture an apparently ageless hope: that each of us can change.

What makes A Christmas Carol especially beloved goes beyond the transformation of the Scrooge in each of us. It’s the Cratchit family we cherish, for despite poverty and illness, they are rich in one another’s love. When the world outside is filled with discord, it’s a comfort to feel the Cratchits’ unity.

Playing Martha, the oldest Cratchit daughter, Chrissy Deremer has learned by heart what makes this family special: “They’re together and close. They love and support each other,” she says.

Scrooge spurns such blessings until those no-nonsense ghosts force him to open doors to his rusty heart. When he reforms, he learns what the Cratchits have known all along: It’s not money that makes life meaningful. In good times and bad, happiness is sustained by love.
All the children who dramatize the pageant have caught on to the message of A Christmas Carol.

“This show teaches you a lesson about the importance of being friendly and appreciating what you have,” says Max Kalifut, the Turkey Boy.

Sarah Wade, librettist Rick Wade’s daughter, plays The Girl. She explains the message this way: “You only live one life so make the best of it.”

Scrooge learned late in life to “make the best of it,” but that’s why we love him so. If that old miser could change his ways, so can we.

“This show is about redemption,” explains Rick Wade. “No matter what life has done to you, there’s always the chance to begin again. Dickens was saying that despite your past, you can decide what kind of a future you want for yourself.”

This year, veteran actor Ed Wintermute made a change of his own. After 18 years playing the Ghost of Christmas Present, Wintermute now makes his Scrooge debut. “It’s not only the same audiences who return to A Christmas Carol,” he says. “Many cast members come back year after year. Some literally grow up on the stage, playing different roles as they mature.”

Camaraderie on stage spills over into the audience not only during the show but afterwards, for the cast traditionally greets theatergoers in the lobby. From the ageless miracle play, which rings their emotions, and from the community of actors who grasp their hands, “People,” Wintermute says, “go home refreshed.”

By curtain fall, the whole house believes again that “with good will in your heart you are blessed.”

Playing Dec. 6-16 at 8pm ThSa; 7pm & 9pm F; 2pm & 4pm SaSu @ Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $5; standby only, one hour before showtime: 410/268-7373.

‘A Christmas Carol is about family and, in the end, warm fuzzies. If Scrooge can turn around, can’t we all?’
Chesapeake Music Hall: A Christmas Carol
All of us truly the children of God,

We’re leaves in one book,

We’re peas in one pod.

The Cratchits’ song “One Family” takes on new meaning at Chesapeake Music Hall, where A Christmas Carol plays a longer run. For the Music Hall itself is one big family headed by Sherry Kay Anderson.

A Christmas Carol’s director, choreographer, costumer and set designer, Anderson seems to be twirling Scrooge through his past, present and future while sewing dresses and cooking the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner. All the while, Anderson is mothering her brood of real actors through dramatic crises of their own.

Mary Armour-Kaiser, who plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, was pregnant during auditions and in labor when she won her part. An authentic stage mom, she brought her infant son to rehearsals.

Dean Davis, the Ghost of Christmas Present, manages the post office in Fort Meade. Davis’ duties during the anthrax crisis have added new drama to bringing Dickens’ story to life.

Craig Beatty, understudy for Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Present, serves in the Air Force at the National Security Administration. He, too, has had extra burdens to shoulder since September 11.

Beset by their real-life dramas, Music Hall players still find renewal in this century and a half-old story. Tere Fulmer, who plays both Mrs. Cratchit and Mrs. Fezziwig, is returning for her fifth year for the sustaining camaraderie of this “homey place.”

Theater, Anderson says, plays a healing role in a community’s life, especially in times of crisis. “People need to escape and think good thoughts,” she says. “A Christmas Carol is about family and, in the end, warm fuzzies. If Scrooge can turn around, can’t we all?”

Playing thru Dec. 23. Doors open 2 hours before showtime, buffet 90 minutes before. Curtains part 8pm ThSa; 8:30pm F; 2:30pm Su; 1pm W @ 339 Busch’s Frontage Rd., Annapolis. $32.50 FSa; $29.50 ThSuW: 800/406-0306 •

‘People should come to enjoy the ballet and the music and forget all the bad things in life,’ says principal ballerina Zhiriu Zou.
Ballet Theatre of Maryland: The Nutcracker
Reality intruded on fantasy when the Ballet Theatre of Maryland held auditions for The Nutcracker the week of September 11 and fewer children than usual tried out for this annual holiday treasure. But artistic director Eddie Stewart, who traditionally plays the role of Herr Drosselmeyer, wielded his enchanted wand and the cast came together.

Now, Stewart says, it’s time for “people to relax and relate to the magic of Christmas. It’s good to feel the excitement and festivity happening on stage.”

Each year, The Nutcracker invites us to share Christmas with two more families — the family who appear on stage and the performers who bring story to life.

As the ballet opens, we share the excitement of guests gathering on Christmas Eve as the Silberhaus family celebrates the holiday and young daughter Clara’s birthday. The house brims with colorful festivities. Exuberant children bounce around the guests like rubber ornaments.

Jeffrey Watson, a dancer with the Ballet Theatre of Maryland since 1994, says the first act of The Nutcracker “symbolizes home, peace, family and togetherness. People see what’s happening and know they’ve been to family functions just like it.”

Watson, of course, is part of both families. “The Ballet Theatre itself is a family,” he says, “and this annual performance adds to the company’s already strong connection.”

If the Ballet Theatre of Maryland is indeed family, Edward Stewart is the proud parent. Every member of the company cherishes his gifts for choreography and caring.

This will be Stewart’s 21st Nutcracker, but it’s the first time audiences will hear Peter Tchaikovsky’s music played by the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra under the baton of guest conductor, Charles Rosekrans. Like red and white on a candy cane, the dynamic combination of live music and dance makes sweet promises as The Nutcracker transports us away from the hard terms of everyday life into a fantasy land populated by mice, soldiers, snowflakes, sweets, flowers and fairies.

At 15, reindeer Sarah Ruppel is already a nine-year veteran of The Nutcracker. Her eyes dance when she describes the qualities that draw her back each year to this production: “The music is so cheerful and Christmasy. This ballet is such a holiday tradition.”

Principal ballerina Zhiriu Zou encourages all Chesapeake Country residents to partake of this tradition, especially this year. “It brings happiness. As dancers that’s what we do,” she says. “People should come to enjoy the ballet and the music and forget all the bad things in life.”
Watson agrees. “Everyone’s trying to get back to normal. It’s normal to see The Nutcracker.”

Playing 2pm Dec. 8, 2pm & 7pm Dec. 15; 3pm Dec. 16 @ Maryland Hall, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. $39 w/discounts; rsvp: 410/263-2909.

‘It’s a Wonderful Life makes you feel good, like coming home to family,’ says Todd Krickler, who returns for his second year as George Bailey.
Pasadena Theatre Company: It’s a Wonderful Life
Three Christmas lessons to memorize:
  1. Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings.

  2. One of the most powerful stories about the value of family and friends is It’s a Wonderful Life.

  3. Pasadena Theatre Company is presenting this holiday tradition for a fifth year. They usually sell out every performance.

In 1946, Frank Capra’s now-classic film starring Jimmy Stewart captured the hearts of Americans stunned by World War II. Stewart played George Bailey, an unselfish family man so down on his luck that he decides to end his life to give his family a second chance. He gets a visit in the nick of time from Angel-Second-Class Clarence, who shows him a new perspective.

More than 50 years later, troubled by a different kind of war, we can re-examine with George Bailey what really matters in life.

“This year, especially, we value the importance of life and appreciate each day. We reorder our priorities,” says director Sharon Steele. “That’s what this show is all about.”
George Bailey, Henry Potter and Mary Hatch stepped out of their roles during a recent rehearsal to examine the wonder of It’s a Wonderful Life.

Todd Krickler, who returns for his second year as George Bailey, says this show is “about tradition — coming back to the familiar and what makes you feel good, like coming home to family.”

Bailey’s foil is Henry Potter — not to be confused with the Potter currently lighting up the silver screen — the story’s wealthy villain. “This is a show that presents values: putting others first, honestly caring about others, giving,” says the man who brings Potter to life, Chuck Richards. “George doesn’t realize all he’s given to others until he gets a chance to look at how the world would be without him. This touches something deep inside all of us and reminds us of the way life ought to be.”

This is Stephanie Nevin’s fourth year as Mary, George’s loving wife. Nevin, who is getting married next year, relates to her character. “Mary is warm and happy. She’s a woman I want to be like, a good wife and mother. Mary Hatch epitomizes the spirit of this show.”

That uplifting spirit, Nevin says, is about “family and faith,” values that strike a chord as powerful as the bell that finally earned Clarence his wings. For in the end it is not the evil Henry Potter but George Bailey who, surrounded by his family and friends, is the richest man in Bedford Falls.

“After all,” says Sharon Steele, “what matters comes from the heart.”

Playing Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at 8pm F, 3pm & 8pm Sa, 3pm Su @ Anne Arundel Community College Humanities Recital Hall, Arnold. $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 410/636-6597.

‘Frosty Follies 2001 makes you think of Christmas and takes your mind off everything else.’
The Talent Machine:Frosty Follies 2001
It’s a Wonderful Life is not the only show guided by an angel. This December Talent Machine founder Bobbi Smith, who passed away last January, will be watching the 11th annual holiday event from a dance studio on high, no doubt directing her own angelic review.

With Smith’s daughter Lea Capps, continuing the tradition, Frosty Follies 2001 might well carry a gift tag that reads: from our family to yours. The package opens like a jack-in-the-box revealing an energetic blend of song and dance, tradition and humor that appeals to all ages.
Nearly 60 local children perform confections like “I’m Getting Nuttin’ for Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” On a different note, the rousing “Go Tell It on the Mountain” adds a spiritual dimension to the show.

The Follies may be Frosty, but the music and voices melt away the chill of our times.
Music director Nicole Roblyer coaches these young voices toward perfection. Roblyer, who appeared in the first Talent Machine group in 1988, returned in her new capacity after college. “I have a connection,” she says. “Bobbi Smith was my mentor. These kids she inspired are more focused and mature than any other group I work with.”

Roblyer considers The Talent Machine “family,” for Follies 2001, she says, “not only appeals to families, it is composed of families. There are many brothers and sisters in the show.”
Amy and Andrew Sonntag are two.

Amy, 17, has grown up on the Talent Machine stage, working with the younger girls as one of the show’s dance captains. A veteran of eight Frosty Follies, she knows what warms the heart. “There’s so much spirit and energy, and the audience feels that energy. The show makes you think of Christmas and takes your mind off everything else.”

Andrew, 16, a dance captain for the boys, says the company has “a lot of unity.” Bobbi Smith was the mom of this family and “when you lose someone you love, you band together even more.”

As such bonds inspire many of these young people to plan careers in musical theater, Talent Machine gives them a strong foundation.

Jillian Locklear leaves for college next year to major in music. She’s had her confidence built by Talent Machine, and she’s sure this Christmas extravaganza will be just as affirming for you and me, too. “It gives people that warm feeling inside that everyone wants,” she says. “It takes the audience away from the world we’re living in right now, full of pain and not-so-pretty stuff. They come to Frosty Follies, and it’s just happiness the whole time.”

Steve Love, 16, who also hopes to continue his musical career, sings one of the show’s closing numbers: “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” In a year in which peace remains elusive,” he says, “that song “will be especially meaningful.”

Playing Dec. 14-23 at 7:30pm ThFSa; 2pm SaSu; 6:30pm Dec. 16 @ Francis Scott Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis. $10; $6/kids 5 & under: 410/956-0512.

‘They don’t have money or fancy dresses,’ says Stacey Lynn Hook, right, who plays Jo. ‘They find a way to make Christmas and life, happy,’ adds Meg’s Jennie Ramey.
Twin Beach Players: Little Women
The temperature inside the abandoned Goodyear garage in Chesapeake Beach chills the toes, but a toasty spirit prevails as members of the Twin Beach Players rehearse for their holiday production of Little Women.

Director Joyce Halley, one of the group’s founders, explains that the Players, going into their fifth season, wanted “something different” for their holiday production this year after four years of the more traditional A Christmas Carol. Halley volunteered to write a script for Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women.

The choice was made before September 11, but it is, she says, a “significant choice.” Little Women, Halley says, “is a family show. It touches on a gamut of emotions — aspects of joy, separation and loss — that affect all families, especially this year.”

The play’s four Christmases span a time even harder than our own: the Civil War. As the show opens, this New England family anticipates Christmas despite their hardships. Mr. March is away from home, serving as chaplain to Union troops in Maryland. Mrs. March, called Marmee, devotes herself to raising four daughters:
Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth.

Working together since September, the young actresses who play the March sisters have developed a special rapport, giggling and whispering between scenes. They’ve grown into the spirit of the lines they’ve repeated so many times.

“The Marches are poor, but they’re tied together and unbreakable,” says Regina Maginell, who plays Amy.
“They don’t have money or fancy dresses, but they’re a loving family,” adds Stacey Lynn Hook whose character, Jo — the writer who produces fanciful adventures that the sisters act out before the Christmas meal — “dreams a lot, sort of like me.”

As the girls grow up and journey toward their dreams, the family endures many hardships, especially the loss of Beth to scarlet fever. Her death draws the family closer, as Americans have grown closer in the wake of September 11. “We care and we still manage to cope,” says Lauren Fink, who plays Beth. “People need to realize what they have.”

Jennie Ramey, who plays Meg, the oldest March sister, adds that “they find a way to make Christmas, and life, happy.”
Twin Beach Players is a baby among area theaters at four years old, but it, too, has thrived on community support. North Beach Fire Department offers its hall for performances, and the Goodyear garage provides rehearsal space. The group has grown to some 50 members, bringing extra hands to accomplish the tasks of putting on a show, from sewing costumes to constructing sets.

Playing Dec. 14, 15 & 16 at 6:30pm FSa for spaghetti dinner w/curtain at 8 ($17.50); Sa at 2 ($10); Su at 6 ($10) @ North Beach Fire Hall: 301/855-0009.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly