TR Robertson — Downtown Coronado was decked out in colorful holiday decorations and spirit filled the air as a huge crowd was slowly leaving Orange St., having watched the annual Coronado Christmas Parade. Many were heading to Lamb’s Theatre, for the 41st annual presentation of Lamb’s Festival of Christmas. For 16 of these years, Resident Playwright & Associate Artistic Director Kerry Mead has written a different Festival of Christmas play each year for the theatre. Each story is original, with a poignant and timely message as well as filled with original holiday songs and unique interpretations of time honored classic holiday songs. This year would be no different as the Lamb’s Festival of Christmas Reaching for the Stars” would prove to be filled with the holiday spirit, extremely entertaining and filled with wonderful interpretations of classic songs as well as several new holiday songs.
Photos by Ken Jacques
The “Festival of Christmas” for 2018 is written and directed by Kerry Meads with musical direction by Jon Lorenz. The setting for this year’s musical is a recording studio just below a commuter train terminal. The musical takes place 3 days before Christmas. The premise of the story revolves around various friends searching for their special someone as well as the struggles a brother and sister and good friend are having with their recording studio. Around this trio are a group of friends and acquaintances and one elderly gentleman, referred to as “Father Christmas”. The gentleman, Van, intersperses words of wisdom, some heard by those he is talking to and at other times, not heard as people hurry by him. Will these folks find love in their life? Will the recording studio find what it needs to remain open? What will the holiday season bring for them? That is the heart of what is hanging over the heads of the friends and Christmas is just 3 days away.
A stylish, comfortable set, as the recording studio, fills the stage and in the background is a long fenced ramp that serves as the waiting area for the commuter train. The cast for the musical is made up of veteran Lamb’s performers, with the exception of Sarah Busic and Keira Yamano. All of the actors and actresses have wonderful voices, complemented by great stage presence and many of them playing a variety of musical instruments. The combined group made the audience feel at ease, almost as if we were looking into the real life lives of these individuals with the highs and lows of dealing with relationships. One of the relationships especially appropriate for this area, that of a loved one in the military serving duty in the Mid-East. This, combined with a blending of beautiful Holiday songs. Especially memorable is the unique take on some of the classic songs of the season, like a smooth “jazzy” “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, a very tender “Away in a Manger”, a contemporary “Jingle All the Way” complete with a little rap, “Noel” and “O Come Emmanuel”. These classics were mixed around a number of new songs written for this production, “Christmas With You”, the “bluesy” “I Got You So, Baby It’s Christmas”, “Maybe This Christmas” and a very moving “Christmastime, This Time”. One line in Act II especially applies to all of these songs – “A song breathes. It opens the doors to our hearts and says things we couldn’t say any other way”.
The Cast is led by Jim Chovick, in his 7th “Festival of Christmas” and in his 40th production at Lamb’s. Jim plays Van, the gentleman serving hot chocolate from his wagon as he dispenses words of wisdom to the people he interacts with as they descend the stairs from the commuter train. Van passes out inspirational advice and words to live by such as, “The faster you go, the behinder you get”, “If you want to be wise you need to ask the right questions”, “The older I get the more invisible I become” and many more. Playing one of the owners of the Pennylane Studio, Christian Lane, is Luke Harvey Jacobs. Playing one of his sisters, Grace, is Sarah Busic, making her Lamb’s debut. Sarah is shyly interested in Trace Morgan, a struggling musician. Trace is played by Jimmy Marino. Jimmy wrote “Christmas With You”. Playing Grace and Christian’s other sister, Faith Lane Price, is Caitie Grady. Caitie was outstanding in Lamb’s production of “Once”. As Faith, she sings the moving song, “Christmastime, This Time”, as she records it to send to her husband in the Mid-East as a Christmas present for him.
Michael Oakley plays Niko Penny, the other owner of Pennylane Studio. Veteran performer Michael, who was also in “Once”, sings and plays drums primarily for this production. Niko is also interested in someone, Jaime Morgan. Jaime is played by Angela Chatelain Avila, another performer from “Once”, who plays bass and energetically sings. Christian is romantically involved with Melody Singer, played by Joy Yandell Hricko. Christian has yet to ask Melody to marry him, using the excuse that he isn’t financially ready to support Melody and her daughter. Melody’s daughter, Sydney Marie Singer, is played by Keira Yamano. Keira is making her Lamb’s debut. Sydney has a special, childlike innocence relationship with Van. Rounding out the group of friends is Cashae Monya, playing Patrice Cash. As Patrice, Cashae is exuberant, fast talking and straight to the point. She is about to lose her job as a late night radio talk host.
The final two performers are both award winning performers. Sandy Campbell plays Eunice Loomis, a visitor to the city from Virginia, working as a nurse in a senior care facility, recently losing her husband. Sandy has won several San Diego Critics Circle Awards. Playing her romantic interest is Manny Fernandes. Fernandes plays Matt Lane, father of Grace, Faith and Christian. Matt’s wife has passed away and he finds himself being set-up by daughter Grace on a blind Internet date with Eunice. Fernandes has won several Craig Noel Awards, and was also in “Once” at Lamb’s.
Meads Creative Team includes Scenic Designer Mike Buckley, Costume Designer Jeanne Reith, Lighting Designer Nathan Peirson, Sound Designer Patrick J. Duffy, Property Master Rachel Hengst and Stage Manager Maria Mangiavellano.
Robert Smyth, Producing Artistic Director for Lamb’s Players Theatre stated the “Festival of Christmas” is “The San Diego Holiday Tradition That’s Different Each December”. You will find that this year’s version is a delightful and memorable tradition to add to your holiday season. Tickets for “Festival of Christmas” can be purchased at 619-437-6000 or go to www.lambsplayers.org. The musical will run until December 30th. Next up for “Lamb’s Players Theatre is “A Jewel in the Crown City” – a musical celebration of Lamb’s 25 years in Coronado.