Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Have A Holly Jolly Christmas With HART

 Front row: Sarah Fuller, Christie Quinn, Rachel Thomas, Chris Byrne.
Back row: Spencer Masson, Heather Sutherland, Nick Serrone, Max Powell, Carl Dahlquist

By Tina Arth

By some standards, the Holly Jolly HART Family Christmas Variety Show may not be the best holiday show on local stages for 2016, but it is unquestionably the most fun. Co-authors Sarah Fuller and Chris Byrne have pulled together more than a dozen snippets from some of the best loved holiday TV shows of the ‘60s and ‘70s and transformed them into a nonstop montage of live theater that hits all the right notes. The material is tied together in two ways – first, by the TV-addicted “typical” Hart family and second, by projecting several authentic period commercials on a giant TV screen backdrop.

The wraparound story is simple. It’s Christmas Eve, and the Hart family is gathered in classic seventies style right in front of their living room television. In keeping with family tradition, mom Barb (Henley Slepyan) wants to read “The Night Before Christmas” but the kids think that’s boring. They’d rather watch their favorite TV specials, but can’t agree on which show to watch. Michelle (Courtney Bell) wants to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas Special” but brothers Greg (Cameron Bell) and Jeff (Carson Bell) are lobbying for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The kids fight over the remote, triggering a wonderful live action clash between the casts of the specials. By intermission, the kids have gone off to bed, so Barb and husband Phil (Mark Putnam) settle in to watch more adult Christmas fare, with their own disagreement: Phil wants to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” while Barb prefers classic musical holiday specials featuring stars like Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Mel Torme. Soon the restless kids wander back downstairs, where they eventually fall asleep while awaiting Santa’s arrival.

The rest of the cast members fill at least 30 roles as they bring the many scenes to life in front of a giant television screen. It’s hard to pick out favorite bits – but the Charlie Brown kids (Rachel Thomas as Lucy, Spencer Putnam as Charlie, Max Powell as Linus, and Christie Quinn as Sally) are particularly memorable. Nick Serrone’s Jimmy Stewart impersonation is spot on, and Sarah Fuller positively channels Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Spencer Masson has real star power as Frank Sinatra, and Carl Dahlquist does a fine job as both Mel Torme and Clarence the Angel. Co-authors/directors Byrne and Fuller show off their versatility with a spectacular tap number, and Slepyan’s vocal on the “White Christmas” duet makes it clear that some of the best talent is right in the Hart living room.

Three super stars of the show are definitely music director Sarah Thornton, lighting designer Heather Sutherland, and costumer Chris Byrne. The special effects drive the production, and the dozens of costumes (cleverly done in living color or black and white depending on when each special originally aired) define and enhance each number.

This is a show that deserves to become a holiday tradition, for both HART and the large audiences it so richly deserves. Give yourself and a friend tickets as an early Christmas present – you’ve earned it! (And if you get the chance, don’t miss Ray Hale’s Orphan Train, playing on the same stage this month. See HART’s website for show dates/times.)

Holly Jolly HART Family Christmas Variety Show is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, December 18th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 

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