Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
During this holiday season, many theater stages are filled with productions of Dickens' A Christmas Carol or revues devoted to traditional carols. Once in a while, however, a theater company presents a new take on the Christmas theme. King Island Christmas is one such new show that was written only a few years ago and is being presented in Dayton at the Loft Theater by the Human Race Theatre Company as a reading as part of their Workshop Series.
King Island Christmas presents the story of the residents of a remote Alaskan island who depend on the arrival of a boat each year for food and supplies to see them through the winter. Also on board are their priest Father Carroll and various items used in their Christmas celebration. When ice prevents the ship from reaching them via their normal route, the residents work together to find a solution. The cooperation of the community to overcome the obstacles placed before them brings out their Christmas spirit. We also get to see a "traditional Alaskan Christmas celebration". The show, with music by David Friedman and libretto by Deborah Brevoort is almost entirely sung through and features many attractive melodies, including "Song of the Oomiak", "The Gift of Trouble", and "Over The Mountain". The libretto is mostly narrative, with much of the plot described rather than shown.
The Human Race Theatre Company has done an excellent job with presenting this musical. The show works very well as a reading due to its narrative style and is likely served best in a similar format. The seventeen wonderful cast members are not slaves to their scripts as is sometimes the case in readings. They portray the characters well and bring genuine enthusiasm to the piece. The ensemble, including four children, consists of strong singers in every role. Director Kevin Moore has made many wise choices in positioning, movement, and interpretation. Musical Director Sean Michael Flowers accompanies the cast with spirited precision and energy.
King Island Christmas is a nice alternative to the usual holiday theater fare. Many churches or community theaters may want to choose to present the show in lieu of other traditional offerings. The score is melodic, yet not too complex, and features a number of choral numbers. The musical is unique in its many references to the cultural attributes and traditions of Alaskans and Native Americans and strongly reinforces the themes of community and heritage. The story unfortunately never makes reference to the birth of Jesus (the reason for the season), but the show still captures the spirit of giving and love that is essential to Christmas. There are some slow points in the book, especially in the second act after the conflict is resolved, but it also has fine moments of humor, humility, and heart.
The Human Race Theatre Company has presented other readings in the past with much success, including the under-appreciated Weird Romance. Their next workshop production will be an original musical entitled Prometheus Dreams in June 2001.
-- Scott Cain