What is your favorite Christmas story? Are you a traditionalist who loves the literary classics of Dickens, O Henry, and Thomas or do you harken back to the animated shows of your childhood with The Grinch, Rudolph, and Charlie Brown? Well, regardless of your preference you can bet your last dreidel that Pit and Balcony’s production Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some)! will reference your favorite holiday tale.
This merry menagerie by Michael Carleton, James Fitzgerald, and John K. Alvarez with Original Music by Will Knapp is written in the style of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) in that it consists of three actors attempting to portray every Christmas story short of Gremlins and the Star Wars Holiday Special. The three actors play characters named after themselves but that represent three different approaches to the holiday season.
Paul Lutenske is incredibly entertaining as the frustrated traditionalist who begins the show with the famous opening of A Christmas Carol only to be interrupted by Sammie, the youthful enthusiast played by Samantha Stricker, and Sharrieff, the Christmas trivia guru played by Sharrieff Beamon, who don’t want to do the dusty Dickens drama, and convince a begrudging Paul to attempt to explore each audience member’s favorite holiday story. Paul’s facial expressions and comedic timing carry the show while Sharrieff Beamon is charming in his light-hearted portrayal of a character who is brimming with curiosity and appreciation for the history and diversity of the holiday season while Samantha Stricker captures a youthful naivety and exuberance.
The flaw that keeps Every Christmas Story from being a perfect gift is its pacing. The feverish pace that would accentuate the comedy inherent in the frustration of Paul finding himself lost in a blizzard of ridiculous popular culture references is missing. This failure to keep both Paul and the audience spinning results in laughter becoming intermittent instead of infectious.
This lack of pacing also results in acting choices wherein the characters present to the audience instead of interacting with each other. This also leaves the audience hesitant about their own involvement in a production which invites audience participation - even bringing members onstage. A production like this should move so quickly and the audience should enjoy it so much that they are both surprised and pleased to find themselves amidst the action under the lights.
Scenic designers Jeff List and Ken Duby, and scenic charge artist Mary Swift create a set that is vibrant and immediately indicates a Santa’s Workshop you might find in any mall in America. The lighting design by Bailey Banks was both functional and creative. I particularly enjoyed the center stage special that created the serious mood essential to the comedic repetition of Paul’s attempt to perform traditional theatre and it is perfect for Linus’s iconic speech about the true meaning of Christmas. The illumination of the many Christmas lights before the end of act one created the desired effect of a ceremonious lighting of the tree.
The voiceovers by Kevin Profitt had the perfect tone of voice and diction to ensure the nostalgia needed for the parody of radio and television productions over the holidays. While I’m against using body mics for a non-musical, I wondered if providing Lutenske with one might have eased the strain for an actor who was obviously struggling to keep his voice.
The costumes by Mary Boone and props by Ashley Schaar were perfectly simple for a show that demands numerous changes in both. They were simple enough for functionality and creative enough to allow for immediate recognition of iconic characters. My favorites included Max’s reindeer horn and the tiny people dangling from strings of a Macy’s parade balloon.
Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some)! directed by Jeff List is a whimsical, family-friendly holiday production perfect for those who trim the tree as soon as possible.
The play runs through December 9 on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3pm at Pit and Balcony Theatre in Saginaw. For tickets call 989.754.6587 or visit pitandbalconytheatre.com.