Chicago Theatre Review
That’s What Christmas Means to Me
A Kokandy Christmas – Kokandy Productions
The holiday season is in full swing and Scot Kokandy, Executive Producer of one of Chicago’s most consistently excellent and highly respected musical theatre companies, presents a sweet, simply staged revue of holiday songs and stories that would send even the Scroogiest Ebenezer out onto Belmont Avenue humming, with a smile on his face. Created, directed and co-arranged by Michael Potsic, ably assisted by co-arranger and talented keyboardist Aaron Benham, this 80-minute program may be modest in size but it bursts with enthusiasm, love and joy.
The show features five of Chicago’s talented, up-and-coming young musical theatre performers singing, dancing, bantering and sharing their personal memories of the holidays. Emily Grayson, Christina Hall, Garrett Lutz, Jaymes Osbourne and Sasha Smith, along with Mr. Benham, Scott Simon on drums and Ben Dillinger on bass, recall stories of past holidays. They include one performer’s passionate wish for a particular Barbie doll, a fond remembrance of a family’s first flocked Christmas tree and how percussionist Simon had always dreamed of becoming and playing “The Little Drummer Boy” during the holidays. As we learn from these shared memories, dreams sometimes do come true.
Between the performances and songs there are occasions when the audience is even invited to participate. Because of Mr. Potsic’s intimate staging, the company can interact with the audience. At times, theatergoers are invited to clap and even sing along. In the midst of all the music and recollections, however, the cast pauses for a quick game of “Christmas Password.” Two willing participants from the audience join the cast on stage for a few rounds with the prospect of winning a prize, while adding an element of improvisation to the evening.
The evening’s varied playlist includes many familiar songs, like mashups of “Sleigh Ride” with “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night” with “Peace, Peace.” Jaymes Osbourne offers a lovely rendition of “O, Holy Night,” and he and Garrett Lutz shine harmonically in a duet of “This Christmas.” The band thrills with their haunting instrumental, “Carol of the Bells,” while the entire company join together for the Irving Berlin classics, “Happy Holidays” and “White Christmas,” along with Meredith Willson’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and that much-loved classic introduced by Judy Garland on the silver screen, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
There are several contemporary tunes to enchant, as well, such as Paul McCartney’s “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time,” Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas, Is You” and En Vogue’s “That’s What Christmas Means to Me,” which could almost be the theme song for this revue. There’s even an homage to the charming, Muppet’s Christmas Carol, with “One More Sleep Till Christmas,” and we’re treated to Joni Mitchell’s nostalgic, “River.” The multitalented Christina Hall serves up a rustic “Tender Tennessee Christmas” and lovely Emily Grayson shares a beautiful Hanukkah hymn, sung in Hebrew.
But, perhaps the most beautiful and eloquently presented moment of the evening features the full company sweetly and simply harmonizing through the Wihla Hutson/Alfred Burt hymn, “Some Children See Him.” In this one moment, that’s what Christmas means to me.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 3-23 by Kokandy Productions at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-975-8150 or by going to www.kokandyproductions.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions may be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.