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As fashion fanatics will tell you, style is everything. If you're not coming up with something new, revisit the tried and true in the liveliest way possible. That is definitely what happens in Pioneer Theatre Company's holiday show, "It Happened One Christmas."
The show created by PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg and Kenneth Jones, playwright of last season's "Alabama Story" is a flavorful pastiche of songs and stories centered on Christmas, loosely tied together by supposedly being set in the abandoned Orpheum Theatre, an old Salt Lake City vaudeville house that opened on Christmas Day in 1905. Every December, the legend tells us, "the ghosts of past shows reappear" and perform, and if they please Santa Claus, Salt Lake City gets snow for Christmas. The Orpheum's stage manager, Howard Kaye, acts as emcee with the help of his bossy and boisterous assistant, 8-year-old Mila Belle Howells.
The cast is an eclectic mix of singers and dancers, locals and out-of-towners, and adults and children. Songs range from Maximilian Sangerman in a raucous rendition of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" to the traditional "O Tannenbaum," sung in English and German by Michelle Blake and JP Qualters.
Amanda Rose is lyrical and lovely performing the poignant "The Gift," and Ginger Bess and Eric Santagata blend beautifully in "Count Your Blessings." And Bess, with an able assist from Carleton Bluford, does her usual amazing job with "Seasons of Love." Who could possibly sing it better?
When Azenberg directs a musical, you expect great choreography, and this production showcases lots of exuberant dancing with the skillful help of Lenny Daniel. "Linus & Lucy," where a snowman comes to life and dances with the young people who made him, is just one example.
There are also Christmas stories, including the origin of the saying "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." The number that is the most fun is the "12 Days of Christmas" sing-along that launches the second act. Howard and the children divide the audience into sections, and everyone brays out the appropriate day's addition.
Set designer George Maxwell has filled the stage with every possible Christmas decoration, from giant Christmas trees to brightly painted ornaments, oversized presents, hanging snowflakes and a huge banner lined with lights across the top of the proscenium. Kirk Bookman's lighting is bright and festive, and K.L. Alberts' richly detailed costumes encompass a variety of holiday fashions from different countries and time periods. Tom Griffin's musical direction is always crisp and clear and keeps everyone tunefully together.
"It Happened One Christmas" doesn't contribute anything groundbreaking to the Christmas repertory. What it does offer is a polished and heartfelt celebration of some of the best and best-loved songs and stories about Christmas. That may be enough to start a new tradition.
"It Happened One Christmas"
Pioneer Theatre Company's "It Happened One Christmas" is a big, joyous Christmas gift for audiences of all ages.
When • Reviewed on Dec. 4; plays Mondays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m., through Dec. 19
Where • Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. University St., Salt Lake City
Tickets • $40 to $62 ($5 more day of show); half-price for students K–12 on Mondays and Tuesdays; 801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org
Running time • One hour and 45 minutes (including an intermission)