Regional Reviews: San Diego
Taking place at the New York UBC Television Studios in 1952, an exasperated television director, Mr. Delmonico (David Cochran Heath), wants to pull off a successful taping for a popular star, Steve Fairfield (Brent Schindele). While the taping doesn't go according to plan because of a snowstorm, Delmonico and his assistant Lacy (Meads) try to fix the situation. In addition to Steve, the only talent they have to work with is a nerdy Iowa music group, the Harmonaires. Behind-the-scenes drama involving members of the group, particularly with the easily jealous Ronald Harmon (Michael Louis Cusimano), the diva Roseanne Harmon (Catie Grady), and the levelheaded Delores "Kitty" Bloom (Nicki Elledge), causes tension on the set of the show. Most of the issues they face are played for laughs.
Many of Meads' jokes come from the relationships that are shared among the different characters. This includes Delmonico's stressful talks with his overworked tech manager Frankie (Omri Schein) and the sweet-natured budding romance between vocal group member Walter Beaman (Beau Brians) and the kind studio gofer Marcie Kramer (Sarah Errington). Due to these situations, the comedic moments become funnier the more the artists at the studios interact with each other. There are a few lines in the first part of the story that are a bit confusing, such as when Delores doesn't recognize Steve, only to discuss how much of a fan she is of him a few moments later. But overall, the plot is straightforward and easy to follow. Besides Meads, credit should also go to the crew for their presentation of the fun narrative.
Associate Artistic Director and Director of Patron Services Deborah Gilmour Smyth stages the action on Mike Buckley's studio-themed set, with moments that feel authentic as well as comically exaggerated. Although certain mishaps and mistakes before and during rehearsal are believable, there are times when the imperfections that occur are used for broad slapstick. Smyth directs the majority of the songs with a restraint on excess, because the performers mostly sing them a capella, under G. Scott Lacy's musical direction. An exception is a sequence with Harmonaires members dressed as sugarplum fairies, which gets good use out of Jeanne Reith's over-the-top costumes and Luke Harvey Jacob's enjoyably silly choreography. The only live instrument is an onstage piano, played by several of the ensemble members, most notably Schindele. His playing adds to the warmth of the tale. Nathan Peirson's lighting is integral to plot developments in act two and Patrick Duffy's audio plays Christmas music during scene changes, including a rendition of "Here Comes Santa Claus."
Despite a few misread lines in an early performance, the performers are enjoyable across the board. Heath, who is making a wonderful return to Lamb's after focusing more recently on narrating audio books, and Meads are a delightful duo. Heath's frustrated attitude as Delmonico and Meads' calming and upbeat demeanor playing Lacy balance well throughout the night. Schein and Eileen Bowman are hilarious in funny supporting roles, and Cusimano, Elledge, Grady and Schindele are gifted singers and actors with humorous personalities. Almost the entire narrative is lighthearted, but there is one very moving scene that will bring tears for many theatregoers. It starts with a monologue from Errington about Marcie's father, who is serving in the Korean War, followed by a rendition of "I'll Be Home For Christmas," performed with sincerity by Errington and Brians.
Lamb's Festival of Christmas continues to be a nostalgic and enchanting presentation, appealing to patrons of all ages and religions.
It's Christmas and It's Live! runs through December 29, 2019, at Lamb's Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado CA. Tickets start at $24. For tickets and information, visit lambsplayers.org or call 619-437-6000.