Mu­si­cal hon­est and mag­i­cal

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - LOUISB.HOB­SON

Some Christ­mases are not so holly or jolly as the Dubois fam­ily in Sto­ry­Book’s Twas the Night Be­fore Christ­mas are about to learn.

The fam­ily booked a ski va­ca­tion to help get them into the hol­i­day spirit, but Dad (Janos Zeller) had com­mit­ments at the of­fice so he had to re­turn to the city after drop­ping the fam­ily off.

We learn about Dad’s skewed loy­al­ties in I-Con­tact, a song in which he tries to ex­plain the new­est app he’s try­ing to mar­ket but which makes it clear his prob­lem is he doesn’t have enough time with his fam­ily.

In her song I Hate Christ­mas, teenage daugh­ter Kait­lyn (Pe­niel Ne­gre) laments be­ing taken away from her friends and her blog, and younger brother Gavin (Kelden Chris­tensen) is afraid Santa won’t know where to bring the presents if the fam­ily doesn’t get home in time.

Gavin’s worst fears are real­ized when Dad re­turns to pick them up, only to have a freak snow­storm strand them in the cabin with min­i­mal phone and in­ter­net ser­vice. He asks, Santa, Can You See Me? When they hear stomp­ing on the roof of the cabin, Mom, Dad and the sis­ter soon share Gavin’s fears in a spooky song called Some­thing ’s On The Roof. It’s up to Mom (Amanda Roe Cross) yet again to try to sal­vage a tricky sit­u­a­tion.

For­tu­nately, help ar­rives in the per­son of Chris­tine (Jo­ce­lyn Brayne), who claims to be a park ranger, but who is some­one much more spe­cial as she hints at in her song, Spare a Thought for Mrs. Claus.

As em­bod­ied by Brayne, Chris­tine is very much the Ghost of Christ­mas Present from Dick­ens’ A Christ­mas Carol. It’s her duty to help the Dubois fam­ily mem­bers re­claim the real spirit of Christ­mas, which she does in prompt­ing Dad to re­call Ex­traor­di­nary Days and to have Mom and Dad rem­i­nisce about Mac­a­roni An­gels, the sym­bol of those won­der­ful Christ­mases when they had few ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions but were rich in hap­pi­ness, con­tent­ment and love.

With Twas the Night Be­fore Christ­mas, Joe Slabe, who wrote the story and nine orig­i­nal songs, has crafted an old-fash­ioned Hall­mark fam­ily mu­si­cal. It’s de­light­ful and filled with hon­est sen­ti­ments, eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able char­ac­ters, some im­por­tant lessons and a bit of magic.

Be­cause there are no mag­i­cal rein­deer, talk­ing snow­men, grinches to re­form or elves, Twas the Night Be­fore Christ­mas is not a show for preschool­ers. It’s ad­mirable for par­ents to want to in­tro­duce preschool­ers to live the­atre, but this is not the play to do it with. Brayne and Chris­tensen, in par­tic­u­lar, try valiantly to in­ject loads of en­ergy into ev­ery­thing they do, say and sing, but the real va­ri­ety of slap­stick young chil­dren love would be out of place in this mu­si­cal.

JP Thi­bodeau, who de­signed and di­rected Twas the Night Be­fore Christ­mas, has crafted a most re­al­is­tic cabin set and his stag­ing em­pha­sizes that this is a real fam­ily with real prob­lems and so­lu­tions. When Slabe’s script calls for Chris­tine’s mag­i­cal en­trance and exit and the ap­pear­ance of a Christ­mas tree and presents, Thi­bodeau makes it all seem mag­i­cally pos­si­ble.

Thi­bodeau and Slabe are for­tu­nate to have five strong ac­tors who can sell both the fam­ily con­flicts and the catchy songs.

Sto­ry­Book The­atre’s Twas the Night Be­fore Christ­mas runs in the Ver­tigo Stu­dio The­atre un­til Dec. 22. Check Sto­ry­Book’s web­site for days and times.

Kelden Chris­tensen plays Gavin and Pe­niel Ne­gre, in the back­ground, plays Kait­lyn in Sto­ry­Book The­atre’s Twas the Night Be­fore Christ­mas.

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