News Column

A bonafide yule-tide: Holiday theater guide

December 4, 2013

YellowBrix

Dec. 04--As we're regaled in song, it's the most wonderful time of the year. Whether that is true remains to be seen, but local theaters are doing their part to get us in the Christmas spirit with singing, dancing and general merriment this month.

A 'Holly' good time at Spotlight

Returning to form, the Spotlight Theatre brightens up downtown with its "Holly Follies." The show marks the third main stage production this year for the theater, which had taken a nearly two-year hiatus.

Local theater mainstay David Zent, who directed "Holly Follies," describes it as "a fast-paced family-friendly revue."

"This show is kind of like an extended vaudeville revue like people used to see at the melodrama," Zent said of the Oildale theater he ran. "Things that people won't expect. I think they'll really enjoy it. ... Every two to three minutes, there is something new."

Music is an important part of the show, with a take on song parodies.

"Songs that aren't normally thought of as Christmas songs, we restage them. One that's based on Davie Bowie's 'Space Oddity' is 'Christmas Oddity.' For the Monkees' 'I'm a Believer,' the music is the same. The way we stage it and the lyrics and the song are all Christmas-oriented."

Along with the laughs, the classics are well-represented, including a duet between Zent and Morning Miller on "O Holy Night."

"We do some really beautiful versions of traditional Christmas songs. 'Still, Still, Still' -- it opens the show, a nice way to ... bring the spirit of Christmas to the audience at the very beginning."

The show is a bit of a family affair with three of Miller's sons and Zent's daughter Jacquie Redstone in the 14-member cast, which also includes Teri Gann and sisters Julie and Riley Bender-Popek.

Zent said kids will enjoy the show and should stick around after for a meet-and-greet with Santa, where parents can take pictures of their children with the big man himself.

Involved in reviving the Spotlight and passionate about garnering local support for the arts, Zent recently wrote an opinion piece for The Californian about getting people out to performances.

"Now you've got The Empty Space, this place, Stars, the new (Gaslight) melodrama, Bakersfield Community Theatre. Between all those theaters, you're sure to have something to appeal to audiences. Part of that is people's willingness to step away from that habit of plunking down in front of that TV set."

Stars' 'Merry Christmas'

Bakersfield is all about community, but if you'd like a bit of international holiday fun, Stars Dinner Theatre has you covered. The theme of the show -- a collection of songs, dance numbers and skits -- is Christmas around the world.

Rosie Ayala, who has starred in a number of Christmas shows at the theater, returns with comedic sketches, said director Bruce Saathoff. And other Stars elves pitched in when an injury sidelined a fellow actor.

"Bethany Rowlee was responsible for putting together the songs ... and she choreographed several of the numbers. She was supposed to be in it, but she had back issues."

Brent Rochon and Marnie Forzetting stepped in to finish the choreography, and Brock Christian handled vocals and arranged several of the songs.

The 16-member cast, smaller than recent shows such as "Spamalot" and "Les Miserables," is a mix of Stars regulars such as Ayala and Zachary Gonzales along with some new faces in standout roles.

"(We can) feature a lot of people who don't normally have a chance to be featured otherwise because they don't fit a specific character type (for a lead role or featured part). Musical revues let you showcase those people a lot more."

The number "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" exemplifies that, with John Vanderpoel on guitar and Robyn Ladd, Joshua Hefner and Leslie Thompson singing.

"Three singers get to shine vocally in that number."

Like many of the local holiday shows, "Merry Christmas" has a little bit for everyone, Saathoff said.

"I think they'll enjoy the variety. There are some really fun dance numbers and good choral arrangements that are equally enjoyable."

Gaslight's 'Elves' hard at work

The Gaslight Melodrama led the holiday local theater pack this year, opening its "How the Elves Saved Christmas" on Black Friday. Running through Dec. 23, the show takes place on Christmas Eve at a make-believe Bakersfield radio station whose holiday broadcast is in jeopardy.

The titular Santa's little helpers, portrayed by a cast of young adults and teens, lend a hand in the show written and directed by Gaslight artistic director Michael Prince.

The cast includes Gaslight veterans Jay Stodder, Matthew Thompson, Shawn Rader, Ali Dougherty and Taylor Dunn along with returning actors Jay Campbell, Austin Whitten and Alexandra Hensler.

Following the main stage show is "The Presley Armstrong Christmas Special," a vaudeville revue about a "sugared-up Perry Como," written and directed by Gaslight musical director Warren Dobson.

NOR Junior Theater shows

An enthusiastic cast and crew of about 50 young people is tackling a tough schedule this weekend by presenting plays at two different venues. It starts Friday with a free performance of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" at the NOR Veterans Hall.

"It's free because it's our gift to the community," said Vickie Stricklind, head of the NOR's theater program. "We do this every year and at the end we light a huge tree in the Veterans Hall."

On Saturday the troupe, directed by Melissa Brazeal, will move to North High for afternoon and evening performances with tickets priced at $7. They'll present "Charlie Brown" along with another one-act, titled "Christmas in July."

The first play takes place on a snowy winter day as Charlie Brown (Seth Henry) trudges along with his head hanging down and tells Linus (Makenna Denney) he's depressed about Christmas.

Linus suggests he consult Lucy (Savanna May) at her psychiatrist booth. Charlie pays his nickel and tells her his problem. Her advice? Get involved.

After interacting with most of the other familiar characters of the comic strip, including Snoopy (Paige Taber) Charlie finds the solution when he visits the owner of the Noel Tree Lot, played by Gage Gatson and everybody ends up happy.

"Christmas in July" is a roundup of holidays with different actors representing various events and featuring Brynnlee Gratt as Father Time and Rebecca Peckfelder as the New Year.

Team-up at Empty Space

Instead of a single play for the holiday season, The Empty Space is doing a dozen short tales. The entire show was written by four local authors: Matthew Borton, Matt Christensen, Kristina Saldana and Ron Warren.

Its title: "The 12 Days of Christmas."

"The individual scenes don't have (specific) names," said Saldana, who's the director. "They are all just a part of the bigger picture."

Made up of a variety of themes, it includes a renowned children's choir -- actually it's adult actors portraying kids -- retellings of classic Christmas stories, a shopping medley, a snowy night romance, an award-winning shopping mall Santa and a few magical toys.

Saldana said it's a family-friendly show, "chock full of singing, dancing, jingling, joking, and plenty of heartwarming Christmas moments."

'Yes, Virginia' at BCT

In all the hustle and bustle this time of year, some might overlook the childlike joy of the season. But not at Bakersfield Community Theatre, which opens "Yes Virginia" The Musical on Friday.

"It's such a wonderful story about the spirit of the holiday," said director Karri Fogle. "Watching it and seeing it, the transformation of the characters, is really all about the holiday spirit and believing in the spirit of Christmas."

Based on a 1897 newspaper editorial addressing a young girl's concern whether Santa Claus really exists, the musical features a cast of mostly children and teens, including two newcomers in lead roles.

"Athina Haynes plays Virginia. This is her first show. One of her supporting actors, her best friend Ollie, is also a first-timer, Fex Johnson."

The musical has teens behind the scenes as well.

"We really integrated the teens with our sound and light. ... We recruited one (Sidney Cooper). She was interested in seeing the backstage of it all. She runs the soundboard. We have a boy running the lights, John Perez."

Fogle, who recently joined the BCT board, said the theater -- interested in giving back to the community it has been a part of for 87 years -- will collect toys for the Bakersfield Homeless Shelter. (Adults receive half off admission with a donation.)

The director said she hopes for a good audience for "Virginia," a thought likely echoed at theaters around town this month.

"I know that we're busy during the holiday season, so I really don't know what to expect. I would love for this to be their (holiday) tradition, like going out to CALM, going out to Pioneer Village -- although it's not called Pioneer Village anymore. I would love to see that become part of their Bakersfield tradition."

-- Columnist Camille Gavin contributed to this report.

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(c)2013 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)

Visit The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.) at www.bakersfield.com

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