By Tina Arth
While I love Christmas music, the season can find me groaning at the prospect of a seemingly endless procession of holiday shows. However, 2019 has been a happy exception. Of the five post-Thanksgiving shows I’ll have seen by December 25th, only two are overtly Christmas-themed – and only one is gifted with a hearty dose of holiday songs. Better yet, the company offering my lone dose of mangers, Santa Claus, and Bethlehem is Broadway Rose. Their musical revue, It Happened One Christmas, offers a carefully curated and unexpectedly diverse selection of standards and newer material delivered by truly amazing performers. The result is about 1½ hours of dynamite music, a bit of wraparound plot, and nothing that sounds even remotely like Christmas muzak – exactly what I wanted!
The production is the result of collaboration between Managing Director Dan Murphy (also the show’s director) and author/musical arranger (among his many talents) Rick Lewis. It’s Christmas Eve, and after all of the shoppers have gone home, Santa’s Chalet in Grimbles Department Store is empty except for security guard Walter and cleaner Frances – or so they think. Unknown to the two, a quartet of exceptionally lively mannequins are singing and dancing their way through the evening, although they quickly disappear almost every time the humans show up. Frances and Walter build a lovely friendship as they reminisce about Christmases past, find comfort in each other’s company and chase away loneliness in this least likely setting for a holiday dinner.
All of this is, of course, just an excuse for the cast to sing and dance their way through the evening – and so they do! After an opening ensemble number, we first meet Walter (Fred Bishop) when, alone on stage, he launches into a pitch-perfect (and perfectly schmaltzy) “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” In the cleverly staged “Real Live Girl” we learn that he, like “Mannequins” Chad Cramer and Jalena Scott, can also dance – even if one of the mannequins is actually a mannequin! Scott and Cramer follow the number with a lovely “Winter Wonderland” and a lively “Man With the Bag” that amply showcase their remarkable voices.
While the ensemble work is lovely, and the ballads are moving, it’s the addition of some gentle comic fare that keeps the evening really alive. Jennifer Goldsmith’s “Frances,” the crusty cleaner with attitude and a heart of gold, delivers some of the evening’s best light moments, with her expressive (somewhere between Fanny Brice and Carol Burnett) face, clear grasp of physical comedy, and a voice that won’t quit. Another comic standout is “Mannequin” Megan Tudor – her “Never Fall In Love With An Elf” is a showstopper! Dance Captain Tudor displays another side when she and partner “Mannequin” Colin Stephen Kane dance their way through “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” – the woman is a true musical theater triple threat! Kane gets a chance to show off his skill as a vocal soloist in “Beneath the Tree,” an original song by Rick Lewis that fits nicely in the program.
The holiday cheer is amplified by scenic designer Kristeen Willis’ wonderful set, evocative of the temporarily festive basement of an old-fashioned department store. Phil McBeth’s lighting design is perfect – depending on the demands of the moment, the atmosphere changes from a slightly sad “after the party” air to full-on holiday cheer. Props, as always, to musical director/pianist/conductor Jeffrey Childs, Bassist Amy Roesler, and drummer Mitch Wilson – although we never see them, they provide the platform on which the whole show is built.
Recent Broadway Rose shows have been selling out quickly, and this one is no exception – there are very few seats available for the remainder of the show’s run. Get on the website immediately, be very flexible, and you just might be able to snag a ticket.
It Happened One Christmas is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, December 22.