Also see Scott's recent review of Blast
As usual with their final show of the calendar season, La Comedia Dinner Theatre in Springboro, Ohio (between Cincinnati and Dayton) presents a holiday-themed show which will surely satisfy the vast majority of audience members for the final two months of 2001. Christmas in Lights provides strong singing and solid performances, despite a weak story.
Christmas in Lights is basically a good excuse to perform twenty traditional holiday carols, as well as a few lesser-known cabaret and theater tunes. However, they are presented within the framework of the story of a present day Christmas for the Parker family. The Parkers learn to appreciate some of the more meaningful messages of the season, such as love and charity, through the appearance of a mysterious homeless man at their front door.
Familiar carols such as "Jingle Bells", "Silent Night", "Oh, Holy Night" and many others are showcased in this musical and appropriately capture the spirit of Christmas. A few songs that are probably not known to most audience members, but which quite likely are recognizable to musical theater fans, are also presented and benefit the production greatly. "Stop and See Me," from the underrated musical Weird Romance is one of the few numbers that actually advance the plot. Two popular cabaret numbers are also used wisely within the show. David Friedman's hilarious (and somewhat edited) "My Simple Christmas Wish" and the tender "Grateful," by John Bucchino, are highlights.
The book of Christmas in Lights is the most problematic aspect of the production. Despite a praiseworthy attempt to present a positive and meaningful story behind the holiday celebration, the tale falls flat due to inadequate writing. Michael Levesque is credited with writing the book, based on a concept by Mr. Levesque and Keith Cromwell. The story is thin and predictable, uses unnatural and stale sounding dialogue, and bounces quickly between corny humor, high camp, and cheesy sentimentalism. The show would have likely been much better off if conceived strictly in as plotless revue.
The talented cast of twenty does exceptionally well with the material. They possess clear and strong singing voices and, therefore, make the many songs the highlights of the show. In leading roles, Melissa Jillian (Stephanie Parker), Bobb James (Chris), Johanna Comanzo (Gladys Bungler) and Mary-Ann Trippet (Mrs. Levulose) are particularly impressive in both the acting and singing requirements of their roles. As Mr. and Mrs. Parker, Timothy Braden and Betty Ann Hunt are appropriate and suitable. The chorus members sing well as a group and dance with polished grace.
In addition to co-conceiving Christmas in Lights, Keith Cromwell serves as director and co-choreographer. There are some glimpses of originality and competence, but Mr. Cromwell's direction also suffers from an uneven pace and scattered focus. The choreography by Mr. Cromwell and Michele Lynch is visually pleasing and well suited to the material, but at times seems overdone and uninspired.
The multiple set designs are provided capably by Matthew J. Evans. The Parker home is realistic, as though it were taken straight out of Midwest suburbia. The other scenes effectively evoke the season appropriately and, during flashbacks, the time period as well. The costumes by A.T. Jones are attractive and professional looking as usual.
La Comedia's Christmas in Lights is saddled with a poorly written story, but the well-sung songs, talented cast, and good design make for what is likely to be an entertaining experience for many theatergoers. The show continues through December 30, 2001 and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.