Christmas is a time for many things: a sparkle of magic, a time to drop into the comfort of traditions we cherish, and the excitement of opening a gift that is fresh and unexpected.
As Pit & Balcony Community Theatre busily prepare for their upcoming regional premier of playwright Don Zolidis’ spanking new musical comedy The Holiday Channel Christmas Movie Wonderthon, audiences should prepare themselves for a fresh and hilarious journey into the contemporary societal confection of binge-watching as many sugary original Hallmark meets Netflix holidays movies as is humanly possible.
By thematically splicing the stories of six different Christmas movies together all at once, we are taken along a surrealistic pillow of interwoven narratives posing different dilemmas all along the way, such as will evil city slickers be able to destroy charming inns and Christmas tree farms?
As the actors move the audience through their channel surfing sleigh ride across the stage, we are taken from Hopewood Falls, Vermont, where singles in adorable sweaters converge to look for love one minute; then teleport the next minute into the plight of a movie star seeking to discover if disguises can help royalty find the down-to-earth connections they crave.
Seamlessly tied together with music, timing, and the fairy dust of seasonal humor, playwright Zolidis - originally from Wisconsin - is one of the most prolific playwrights of contemporary theatre, having scribed 102 plays and staged 12,000 theatrical productions across the United States.
For Pit & Balcony production director Jeff List, the concept behind Wonderthon of poking fun at contemporary holiday movies in such a manner brings a welcome freshness to the stage.
“Zolidis likes farce and broad comedy, and I was pretty explicit with the cast that despite the satirical jabs at sappy Hallmark films, there aren’t really a lot of in-depth themes going on here. This play is about enjoying yourself with a holiday show where we have some fun and a little romance and let the audience direct the flow.”
With a strong assembly of actors consisting of familiar faces and relative newcomers, the cast is comprised of Trashan Donald, Nathan Hanley, Sandra Cline, Amy Pitts, Parick Rzepka, Annie Gower, Steven Cantu, Greg Allison, Kevin Profitt, Hannah Duford, Matthew Howe, Hannah Rousseau, Tim Simmons, and Audreanna Symon, with Wesley Cook, Elijah Feinauer in the role of dual-narrators.
“With all these different interwoven vignettes following a similar structure leading through different complications, such as the ‘sad walk in the snow’, or in one of the vignettes that involves a couple where he is unconscious most of the first act while she takes his phone and starts photoshopping herself into his pictures - kind of gaslighting him into loving her - the narrators drive the flow between the stage and the audience,” explains Jeff.
“The stage is like a giant television and you have these interwoven vignettes going on with lots of music that gives the tone that saccharine sugar sweet underscoring,” he continues. “Making fun of conventions is what Zolidis loves to do.”
“I’ve worked with many of the actors in this production before both as an actor & director, and others like Trashan - who I worked with in Meteor Shower and Nate and Kevin are very strong; but I’ve never worked with Hannah Duford before, who plays Bridgette - a sassy best friend type who doesn’t get involved in romance, but allows other female characters to dish about their exploits, and she’s great in the part.”
Because this production is so new and fresh to audiences, Jeff doesn’t have to deal with a lot of pre-conceived stereotypes associated with more familiar holiday characters, which opens things up for him quite a bit as a director; although he said his approach is to stay close to the script.
“Right now the most challenging thing is making sure all 16-people in the cast can be here when they need to,” he smiles. “Blocking is the biggest challenge because I want a nice flow to the stage, so need to make sure the actors aren’t covering one another, or different parts of the set. We have a lot of movement and are using all parts of the stage.”
“There’s a lot of good theatre in this region over the holidays, but I think this play offers a fresh way to look at something that I don’t think is going to be done anywhere else,” he reflects. “There’s a lot of cool costuming that is perfect for the holidays. Spencer Beyerlein is the costume designer and doing a fabulous job. The script calls for a lot of Christmas sweaters, so we’ve got to find 16 Christmas sweaters and a Santa outfit for one character who doesn’t want to play Santa because his father did for years and doesn’t want to embrace his legacy.”
“My hope is that we’ll garner sizable audiences for the holidays eager to have a good time and engage in something different,” concludes List. “This show affords them the opportunity to have some laughs, see some romance, and witness something new in a way they haven’t seen before.”
“Mainly, I’m excited to work with this cast. They put in six weeks of hard work and I want the audience to appreciate it.”
“It can be challenging for the actors I work with, because my approach is a little different. I don’t rehearse for three weeks but do it every four days, spending one day to block a new section, two days to run the scene, and go off the book on the 4th day. I think that actors do their best work when the script is out of their hands.”
The regional premier of ‘The Holiday Channel Christmas Movie Wonderthon’ will run from December 9-11th and 16-18th. Showtime is 7:30 PM Friday & Saturday with 3:00 PM Sunday matinees. Tickets are $20.00 for adults and can be purchased at PitandBalconyTheatre.com or by phoning 989.754.6587.
9th February, 2024