This season I had the pleasure of attending two holiday theatrical performances in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and while in many ways they could not have been more different, both delivered the goods when it came to providing great entertainment.
After premiering its first winter show in 2021, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival brought back It’s Christmas, Carol! again this December but with new cast members and a fluid, evolving script. We did not see the show last year, but we have seen productions by the creative team of Mark Bedard, Brent Hinkley and John Tufts, who in past seasons at OSF have produced (and performed as Groucho, Harpo and Chico, respectively) Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, based on the hilarious Marx Brothers films. We knew we were in for a zany production, especially when we’d seen ads featuring dinosaurs in the cast (those blow-up T-rex types).
The show opens with a very proper narrator and a plot that one thinks will roughly follow that of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, albeit with a jumbled cast of characters including Carol Scroogenhouse; her deceased friend, Mrs. Marley; the Crotchit family; the Wezzyfigs; Carol’s lesbian niece, Freddie, and her partner, Rebecca; and zombies (and the aforementioned dinos). In spite of the Narrator’s best efforts, however, any semblance of an orderly progression of events falls by the wayside. References — visual and otherwise — to all manner of seasonal celebrations, from Druid festivals and Hanukkah to Christmas and Kwanzaa, and popular holiday entertainment, from It’s a Wonderful Life to Die Hard, pelt the audience in rapid-fire fashion, as do the dialogue and random original songs. Speaking of pelting, at one point audience members were encouraged to toss “snowballs” (large white pompoms) at the actors on stage.
At the end of the evening, my husband and I turned to each other, eyes fairly spinning in their sockets, and exclaimed, “What was that??!!”. It was wild, a little hard to follow and a lot of fun, and clearly delivered the message that we should all live and let live and love and support each other, dinos, zombies and all.
A week later, we took in the opposite end of the spectrum at Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s delightfully traditional production of White Christmas. The musical was performed in OSF’s intimate Thomas Theatre with the audience surrounding the stage in tiers on three sides. We brought my 94-year-old mother-in-law, knowing she’d enjoy the Irving Berlin songs and the dancing, though we were a little concerned the three-hour show might test her stamina. We needn’t have worried, as her front-row seat placed her at the heart of the action, and she loved every minute of it . . . we did, too.
Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s usual home is in a converted church just a block away from the OSF theaters in Ashland. A professional theater that has been operating for over 35 years, it generally offers five to six plays and musicals each year, and one can enjoy dinner and/or dessert with a show. The stage is fairly compact, so casts are usually small, but the entertainment is always excellent. The staging of White Christmas at the Thomas allowed for a cast of 16 and some really fabulous production numbers, with inventive staging, lots of lovely costume changes and great choreography. The big tap numbers were especially impressive, and all of the leads boasted strong, well-trained voices. Several roles were filled by local talent (including two middle-school-aged girls who shared the role of General Waverly’s granddaughter), but they all performed at a very professional level.
As with It’s Christmas, Carol!, there was some audience participation here as well, although it was limited to us serving as the “audience” to the G.I.’s Christmas show in the opening scene and again at the show in the barn of the General’s Vermont lodge in the final scene.
Everyone sang along for the rendition of “White Christmas,” and I think we sounded pretty great!
These two productions really capped off a holiday season that felt much more like those of yore (though we did need to wear masks in the theaters . . . really not a hardship). I hope you found much to delight you this season as well, and I wish you a very happy New Year.
— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor/copy editor
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