“Forever Christmas” at Avon Players, Rochester MI
Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association; Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle) and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Photos Courtesy of Avon Players
Comfort Food for the Soul
Just like getting together with old friends and family at this time of year, “Forever Christmas” is joyfully familiar and comes with surprises. This sweet and gentle musical revue – an Avon Players original – offers songs, comedy sketches and inspired storytelling that is not unlike a holiday party with some very talented guests.
Recorded music, along with dreamy video projections of snow falling and outdoor Christmas scenes, provides the cast of five singers and four actors a cheerful backdrop. A special appearance by legendary broadcast personality Chuck Daugherty lends a magical touch with his spellbinding narratives of the history of the Christmas tree and the origin of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. His melodious speaking voice, honed through his many decades on the radio, makes you clearly see the people and places he talks about, and yearn for more.
Five outstanding singers (Sherri Angelotti, Matt Cason, Clayton Hargrave, Kirsten Renas and Lori Smith), each of whom could have their own career in cabaret, blend their voices in beautiful harmonies and vibrant solos. Most of the singers were featured in last season’s spectacular “Hunchback of Notre Dame”. This show is a nostalgia trip for sure: A couple of numbers by the three lady singers recall the Lennon Sisters of the long-ago Lawrence Welk days, and some songs could have been sung by Bing Crosby or Perry Como. Granted, there are some modern twists to old standards, but by and large, this show takes you back to mellower times. Standout numbers include the sparkling “Jing A Ling” and lovely “Breath of Life”, arguably the best in the show.
Bodi Johnson, Katie Jostock, Anthony Sherman and Johannah Steinbrecher-Booker, the four actors doing comedy sketches sprinkled between musical numbers, give their all to the zany mix. There’s funny bits about co-worker crazies, a frenzied visit with Santa, a crabby TV hostess and a brutally frank dysfunctional family.
One critique would be the blocking – the singers have a chorus-line look at times, with minimal choreography. Breaking them up into small groups more often would give the musical numbers more depth and movement between sketches.
Projection design by Bryan Clifford gives just the right effect, as does lighting and set design by the show’s director, JD Deierlein. He’s also spot-on as the vocal director. Deierlein first conceived this show 27 years ago, over the years evolving the cast, music and stories so that now it’s a holiday tradition at Avon Players.
So sit back and relax. All you need to do is enjoy. But just one thing…
As of this writing, all but one of the remaining performances is sold out, but you can call or drop by the box office for cancellations. Or if you’re really lucky, they may decide to add some more shows. Then again, there’s always next year.
Now through December 14, 2019
1185 Washington Rd
Rochester, MI 48306