On the Town

What Would the Season BeWithout Old Friends?

There's still time (and a few tickets) to add drama to your holidays

by Carol Glover

Decorating Christmas cookies, wrapping presents, filling stockings. Mixing eggnog, stringing lights, gathering holly. Memories create our holidays, special moments like treasured ornaments displayed at this season, then wrapped in tissue and stored until next year.

Chesapeake Country is filled with special Christmas moments, events that become community traditions to be unwrapped year after year, savored and then tucked away.

Here are some favorite shared moments:


A Colonial Players Moment

Lines form on the streets of Annapolis as tickets for A Christmas Carol go on sale. This seasonal play is Colonial Player's holiday gift to the community.

As the lobby of the half-century old Players' restored theater on State Circle fills with the sound and sight of children, excited in their dress-up clothes, this year's production highlights, as always, the continuity of the Players both in service to community and family togetherness. Generation after generation find their way back to this theater, some to see the performance, others to perform or help backstage.

The lyrics you hear, set to Dick Gessner's music, belong to Rick Wade, who in 1980 put together Colonial Player's traditional A Christmas Carol. Wade finds his way back to the bright lights this year by co-directing his play. His return alleviates some of the sadness caused by the departure of the show's one and only music director, Roger Compton.

Keeping his long-standing record intact, original cast member Ed Wintermute introduces his nine-year old granddaughter to the stage. During his first season, his then-eight-year-old son appeared with him. The family theater tradition lives on.

Family involvement has been one of the hallmarks of The Players' A Christmas Carol. A new family joins the fun this year. Herb Elkin appears in the crowd scenes accompanied by his daughter Julia, while daughter Alice toils backstage.

So while Scrooge, Marley, the Cratchits and the ghosts tell Dickens' tale on the stage, family traditions, theater friendships and working partnerships weave a backstage story.


A Ballet Theatre of Annapolis' Moment

The Nutcracker at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts showers us with holiday magic.

Young children in holiday attire sit in quiet enchantment for two hours as toys come alive, trees grow and twinkle, mice battle and soft snow falls to cover the stage. No wonder: all this is set to Tchaikovsky's soaring music and enchanted by dance.

Ballet Theater's artistic director Edward Stewart pulls out all the stops as his company presents a wondrous afternoon of dance and special moments. One hundred young dancers from Eastern and Western Shore ballet schools join the professionals to tell the story. This is a thoroughly rewarding partnership: the pros model dedication and determination for the youngsters, in return absorbing the exuberance and freshness of the novices.

Stewart takes the role of Drosselmeyer, godfather and magician, whose gift of a nutcracker leads young Clara (Zhirui Zou) to dream her way through a night of adventures. Accompanied by the Nutcracker Prince (Dmitry Tuboltsev), she visits the land of snow and sugar and sees some wonders of the world.

Special touches abound. The dog isn't any old pooch but a Dalmatian, much to the delight of the young audience. A huge jack-in-the-box rolls onto the set, and out pops the company's Aram Manukyan.

The expertise of company soloists Natasha Kiryanova as the Snow Queen, Anmarie B. Touloumis as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Jeffrey Watson and Shari R. Vazquez as the Arabians provide memorable moments for the dance aficionados in attendance. The rest of the audience is dazzled by the turns, leaps and costumes.


A Talent Machine Moment

Fifty-three players aged three to 17 make Holiday Magic in Bobbi Smith's traditional seasonal offering. An audience filled with youngsters delights as neighbors, classmates and family sing and dance their way through a show filled with familiar tunes, colorful costumes, flashy dance numbers and special effects.

Magical toys come to life: toy soldiers march, bears perform pirouettes. 1950s' holiday tunes rock, Hanukkah dreidels spin and Irish dancers jig. But nothing tops the surprise entrance of the tap-dancing Santas.

"The show embodies what the holiday season is all about," says producer Susan Krepps. "Kids become friends, partners depend on each other. And the Talent Machine carries out its mission: area youth are exposed to live theater and perform in a community setting."


Pasadena Theatre Company's Moment

The full house at Anne Arundel Community College's Humanities Hall holds kids, adults and lots of teens. Tickets were so scarce the first weekend of the Pasadena Theater company's production of It's a Wonderful Life that theater members were giving up their own seats. This is the second year for the now-annual event.

Like the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart cinematic Christmas classic, the Pasadena Company's production highlights universal truths that transcend the seasons and touch us all: honesty and duty to family and community. As Clarence, the angel who has spent 200 years trying to earn his wings, tries to help George Bailey keep his perspective amid hard times, we reflect on the meaning of the season and the role each of us plays in the lives of others.

We've watched the movie many times, but seeing the story live brings its message closer still to home. Here are our neighbors trying to save money for a house and our absent-minded uncle misplacing money. Who, like Bailey, hasn't lost their temper on Christmas Eve? The happy ending restores our hope, as well. Holiday cheer continues after the performance as the cast meets with the audience in the lobby to serve warm cider, pass out cookies and share wishes for happy holidays.


A Chesapeake Music Hall Moment

Chesapeake Music Hall's A Christmas Carol sparkles and bubbles like holiday champagne. Directed by Doug Yetter and showcasing his music, with lyrics by Michael Hulett, this production features Dickens' own words, no pale paraphrase of the famous 19th century novel.

This year's production sparkles with Ron Sarro's portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge. His Scrooge is a gleeful curmudgeon. He's not only stingy but delights in his miserliness. Sarro's eyes gleam as he bounds and sweeps across the stage, making his neighbors and all miserable. The laughs keep coming as Scrooge travels through his past, present and future, getting air-sick as he holds on the sleeve of Christmas Present (David B. Reynolds).

As with any gifted actor, Sarro makes the laughter lie not far from tears. His gestures and face reflect the moments that have made Scrooge what he is and show the better man he could have been - and will become.

Seeing again The Music Hall's cast of familiar faces, sprinkled with new ones, is like celebrating with family. New to the family is Jessica Bays as Tiny Tim. This first-grade girl with a grin you'll not forget upstages everyone.

As well as Sarro and Bays, you'll be entranced by:

· Alan Hoffman, a warm Bob Cratchit in strong voice;

· John Andrew Rose, as Fred, is full of fun, mischief and kindness;

· David Reynolds, our familiar Marley, is larger than life with his terrifying voice sounding as if it has come from a deep well. His skating is so much improved over last year that he can even go backwards;

· Susan Belle, as Belle, reprises her role from last year, delighting us again with her beautiful voice;

· Cynthia Lasner, as the giggly, vital Christmas Past. All sparkly, like a sprite, she's bright and teasing with Scrooge;

· Also notable are Mary Armour-Kaiser as the charwoman and Carol Cohen as Mrs. Dilber. Both are grating old crones whose London street accents, blackened teeth and screechy voices are just what Dickens ordered. Cohen also sets the scene as the narrator.

This is a Christmas Carol for kids. Yes, the dark spirits are out and the ghosts too, but this Scrooge is just about the most approachable one you'll find.

Watching the snow fall during the Nutcracker, listening to traditional carols at Holiday Magic, seeing Scrooge glide above the city in A Christmas Carol. Waiting in line at Colonial Players, enjoying cider and cookies with the Pasadena Theatre Company. These are the special moments to be savored, wrapped in our memories and tucked away till next year.

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VolumeVI Number 49
December 10-16, 1998
New Bay Times

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