The spirit of Christmas is alive and well on local stages this holiday season.
Along with the classic stories of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Second Street Players in Milford and a musical version of “Elf” done by the Possum Point Players in Georgetown, comes a tale that may not be as familiar to local audiences, staged by the Kent County Theatre Guild in Dover.
“You Better Watch Out,” written by Don Hodges, is set during Christmas Eve at the Willow Inn in Wisconsin.
The hosts, Jenny and Tom, are having Art, Jenny’s father — who’s still mourning the passing of his wife two years ago at Christmastime — visit their bed and breakfast for the first time. There’s a snowstorm raging outside, and three travelers are forced to lodge at the inn and wait it out — Rudy and Marsha, who run a costume business together, and a mysterious but cheerful man named Mr. Smith, who claims to be in the delivery business.
Only the inn’s handywoman Andi sees that Mr. Smith really is the spirit of Christmas. Andi must help him make Art, who’s been in a dark place for a very long time, see the joy of Christmas and who Mr. Smith really is.
“It’s just a good play. I liken it to a Hallmark movie, and I’m a sucker for those,” said director Terri Thompson, who is working with consulting director Patti Gatto.
“It’s a very heartwarming show.”
Despite the ominous title, Ms. Thompson assures audiences that the show is appropriate for the whole family.
“Because it’s not a title that they’re used to hearing around the holidays, I think a lot of people, when they first heard it — (including) some of the people in the audition who went out for the show — asked ‘Is it something scary?’ and I said, ‘No, it’s not a scary Christmas show. It’s very sweet,’” she said.
The seven-person cast is led by Jill Lewandowski as Jenny and Joseph DiRocco as Tom, with Karen Marshall as Andi, Bruce Leister as Art, Tony Gerdes as Rudy, Rebekah Lee as Marsha and Anthony Pierantozzi as the inscrutable Mr. Smith.
“The chemistry with these folks in the cast is amazing. There just seems to be very little conversation between us,” said Mr. Pierantozzi, a veteran actor from Millsboro, who is doing his first show at the guild.
“We really put this thing together, and I think it has to do with the maturity of the cast. And of course, our directors are very good.”
Mr. Pierantozzi, 79, is shorter in stature with dark hair, not exactly what people think of when they conjure up the spirit of Christmas or Santa Claus.
“I was really hoping I would get the role of Art since I’m older, but it’s not what I see, it’s what they see,” he said.
“People ask me, ‘So you play Santa Claus?’ I say, ‘Yeah, that’s the character.’ They’re looking for my appearance, the height thing and so forth. And I say, ‘Well, you can’t see me as Santa Claus.’ And I explain it to them. They say, ‘So you’re more in spirit.’ It gives the audience a reason to think.”
The inn’s handywoman, played by Ms. Marshall, is the only character who sees Mr. Smith for who he really is.
“It is the most different to anything I’ve ever done,” said Ms. Marshall, who has now performed Christmas shows in all three Downstate community theaters.
“She is mentally challenged, and it’s a real authenticity that I’ve got to keep a hold on. She’s not a joke. She is simple. And because of that, the world kind of goes at a different pace for her. But it’s been really nice to bring her to life. Yes, she is challenged mentally, but because of that, it is bringing her a gift in that she is the only one who can really see the truth.”
Describing the show as “a Hallmark movie meets the Nativity scene from the Bible with a little bit of farce,” Ms. Marshall said it’s fun bringing a unique story to a local stage.
“It’s a very different show for Christmas. I think the audience is more apt to pay attention because they don’t know what to expect,” she said.
Originally from Wilmington and now living in Milford, Ms. Marshall has been acting in shows Downstate for 10 years, but this is her first time with the Dover troupe.
“I have been attending their improv and Whoopee workshops, so I have been spending a good deal of time here,” said Ms. Marshall, who is on the board of directors for the Second Street Players.
“I heard (KCTG was) doing a Christmas show with a small cast, and I love small casts. I’ve known Terri and Patti for a little bit, and I wanted to try out on a different main stage. I’m so glad to be a part of all the theaters, and it’s nice that everybody kind of exchanges (ideas) a little bit.”
A veteran of KCTG, Mr. Leister, a Dover resident who plays the pivotal role of Art, said the part is different for him.
“It’s a feel-good show. It’s been fun. We laugh a lot. And I like the character of Art because I get to be a curmudgeon. The thing is, the older you get, the more character roles you get to play,” he said.
For Ms. Thompson, this is the first time she has been the main director for a show. An actor at KCTG for more than 20 years, she has been an assistant director several times.
“They wanted to do a Christmas show. And I had read this one a while back, and I thought it was a really cute show. And then, when they said, ‘We need somebody in that slot to direct,’ nobody was willing to take it. So I said I would do it,” she said.
“I just never thought I was ready to direct. And everybody kept saying, ‘You are. You are.’”
She said leading the play is a bit more complicated than she anticipated.
“There’s a lot more to it than just sitting there and saying, ‘You move here. You move here.’ I also do set design with Paul Janiga, so I’m doing that, too, which is kind of nice as a director, (to) get to be part of that,” she said.
“It’s not as overwhelming as I thought it was going to be. The part you don’t know about when you’re assisting is, like, giving the sound cues, giving the mic cues, that type of thing. So that was a little bit like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do that, too?’”
All seven members of the cast are veteran actors, though only three have performed at KCTG. Ms. Thompson said she has been grateful for their professionalism.
“This group has just worked so well together. And they were quick about getting off (script), too, which you always appreciate as a director,” she said.
“You Better Watch Out” runs Dec. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be obtained here. The guild’s Patchwork Playhouse is at 140 Roosevelt Ave.
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
Directed by Thom Harris, “It’s a Wonderful Life” starts tonight at Second Street Players’ Riverfront Theater in Milford.
This version is true to the classic film, featuring the saga of George Bailey (played by Alex Lloyd-Wood), the everyman from the small town of Bedford Falls whose dreams of escape and adventure have been repeatedly quashed by notions of family obligation and civic duty.
It is Christmas Eve, and George’s guardian angel, Clarence (played by Bernard Noeller), descends to save him from despair and to remind him — by showing him what the world would have been like had he never been born — that it has been, after all, a wonderful life.
All performances will be at the theater, 2 S. Walnut St., and are scheduled for today through Sunday and Dec. 3-5.
Friday and Saturday shows begin at 7 p.m., and Sunday shows begin at 2 p.m. Seats are $20, with a $1 discount available to seniors, military, students and SSP members.
To purchase tickets or for more information, visit here. Patrons who need assistance with the website or with other questions can email email@example.com or leave a message at 302-422-0220.
‘Elf: The Musical’
“Elf: The Musical” starts Dec. 3 in Possum Hall, 441 Old Laurel Highway, Georgetown.
Tickets can be obtained here. Show dates are Dec. 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12.
Friday performances are at 7:30 p.m., and matinees on both Saturdays and Sundays are at 2.
Adapted after the popular 2003 “Elf” movie, “Elf: The Musical” is directed by Kenney Workman of Milford. Georgetown resident Diane Trautman is the music director, and Bliss Soucek of Milford is the choreographer.
The play introduces Buddy, an orphan who mistakenly crawled into Santa’s bag of gifts and was transported to the North Pole one Christmas Eve. The youngster is lovingly raised as an elf, and no one is aware that he is actually a human until his unmistakable overgrown size and poor toy-making abilities give him away.
Santa Claus realizes Buddy needs to find his birth father and learn to live in a world of humans. He sends him off to New York with a snow globe of the city to guide him. Much to his shock, Buddy finds that his own father and the entire Big Apple is on Santa’s naughty list. But Buddy’s favorite thing is smiling, and he is happily determined to win over his new family and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.
Cast members include Claudius Bowden, Jim Hartzell, Tommy Ray Chedester, Abbie Porter, Kierstyn Woody, Andrew Hertzberg, John Zinzi, Michael Murnin, Steven Perry, Malcolm Keen, Kevin Kirk, Amy Baker-Sheridan, Finn Sheridan, Steven Dow, Jake Darmstadter, Julianna Markel, DavShawn Brewer, Whitney Cook, Greg Breitkreitz and Shayla Macklin.
All patrons and volunteers will be required to wear face masks upon entering and throughout the show.
New this weekend in theaters is the animated musical, “Encanto”; Lady Gaga and Al Pacino in “House of Gucci”; and the horror film, “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City.”