Regional Reviews: San Diego
Clint Black's Looking for Christmas
Also see David's reviews of This Beautiful City and Melancholy Play
Best buddies Mike Randolf (Aaron C. Finley) and Douglas Miller (DeLeon Dallas) are serving in Afghanistan, and rumor has it that they will be sent home for Christmas. There's one last patrol to do, though, and this one turns out badly: Miller is one of those killed. Mike returns home shaken by the experience, and the excitement of seeing his wife Jessie (Liana Hunt) and daughter Ellie (Kaylin Hedges) is dampened by the necessity of facing Miller's wife, Alissa (Syndee Winters), who is a neighbor.
Turns out that Miller's ghost has come back, and he's making himself known by opening the Randolf's refrigerator door unseen.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood is preparing for Christmas, and Ellie is playing one of the Wise Men in the Christmas pageant, along with several neighbor children (played by Bobby Chiu, Veda Cienfuegos, Giovanni Cozic, and Reese McCulloch).
Mike is the only person who can see Miller's ghost, and his guilt about his friend's death tortures him, at least for a while. What might qualify as a "Christmas miracle" shakes Mike out of his nightmare state and bodes for a joyous holiday after all.
Sounds a bit like a Hallmark Christmas special? I thought you'd say that. And, of course, whether that's a good or bad thing depends on your opinion of Hallmark Christmas specials.
There's nothing rowdy or outrageous about Mr. Black's country/pop tunes. If your ears are shut every time country music comes on, they won't for these songs. The best ones are the two that made the charts off the album: "Milk and Cookies," and "The Kid." But, the others provide easy listening.
The cast, too, fits right into the easy listening groove. Despite playing a ghost for most of the show, Mr. Dallas is a lumbering, laid-back presence whenever he appears. As his wife, Ms. Winters has the requisite singing chops to sell Mr. Black's more up-tempo tunes. Mr. Finley and Ms. Hunt project sweetness and light. It's a good thing that the script doesn't call for Mr. Finley to suffer for long with his war trauma. Ms. Hedges played the title role in Annie last summer at the Hollywood Bowl, and it's easy to see why.
Sean Fanning's scenic design provides flexibility for creating different locales quickly on the White Theatre's in-the-round configuration. Set pieces roll on an off easily, including the infamous refrigerator with the door that seemingly opens on its own. Rui Rita's lighting design looks best when the moon is out (and, fortunately, it's out a lot). Charlotte Devaux's costume design has fun with the Christmas pageant the kids put on. Leon Rothenberg's sound design works hard to balance the cast's singing voices with the six-piece band located under the stage. Wendy Seyb's choreography is mostly executed by the kids. Kent Nicholson's direction is low-key, like the show.
In a program interview, Mr. Black denied any aspirations for bringing Looking for Christmas to Broadway. That's probably a good idea. Still, with its strong emphasis on loyalty and family ties the 90-minute, no intermission production might find its way into theatres across the country. Who knows? It might even turn up on TV as a Hallmark Christmas special.
Clint Black's Looking for Christmas, through December 31, 2018, at The Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego CA. The performance schedule is Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and 2pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org.
Ensemble and swing cast members include Reanne Acasio, Scott Richard Foster, Bryant Martin, Katie Sapper, Lauren Livia Muehl, Jonathan Sangster, and Lauren Ellen Thompson. Matt Hinkley is the music supervisor and music director; Cody Owen Stine is the associate music director.