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Christmas Canteen 2017

a Holiday Show
by Brandon O’Dell

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 5187

SHOWING : November 16, 2017 - December 23, 2017



An Aurora Theatre original and Gwinnett’s longest-running theatrical holiday tradition, "Christmas Canteen 2017" returns this November for a 22nd smash year! Audiences love this stunning musical revue, a Winter Wonderland that just keeps getting better! Filled with songs of the season, sketch comedy, amazing theatrics and a touch of nostalgia, Christmas Canteen 2017 is the perfect recipe for a very Merry Christmas! This year with new hosts Caroline & Nick Arapoglou.

Writer Brandon Odell
Director Jen MacQueen
Choreographer Jen MacQueen
Music Director Ann-Carol Pence
Director Anthony Rodriguez
Bass Greg Armijo
Percussion Mark Biering
Guitar Jim Stallings
Nick Nick Arapoglou
Caroline Caroline Arapoglou
Daisean Daisean Garrett
Jen Jen MacQueen
Christian Christian Magby
Cheyanne Cheyanne Osoria
Lyndsay Lyndsay Ricketson
Ben Benjamin Strickland
Cecil Cecil E. Washington Jr.
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Can’t E’en Complain
by playgoer
Friday, December 1, 2017
I shouldn’t complain. This year’s edition of Aurora’s "Christmas Canteen" has possibly the best collection of voices they’ve ever had. And yet somehow the spirit seems to have been extracted from "Christmas spirit."

Part of the problem is the hosting of the show. The married couple of Nick and Caroline Arapoglou take on the duties this year. They are both attractive, genial, personable, and talented. The banter that has been scripted for them, however, doesn’t seem to provide much opportunity for true personality to shine through. There are a few attempts at humor early on by having Nick horn in on others’ moments, in the way Brandon O’Dell has so successfully done in the past few years, but here the attempts seem half-hearted and fall flat. We have pleasant-enough hosts, but the show doesn’t seem to have been devised to show off their truly unique, individual talents. Where, for instance, is Mrs. Arapoglou’s break-out dance moment? She outshines everyone else technically in the group numbers, but that just puts a spotlight on wasted talent.

Another dispiriting part of this year’s conception is the inclusion of TV theme songs that feature video clips of show intros. The cast sings the songs well, but seeing so many now-dead icons of television history casts a pall over the whole thing. The inclusion of a Donny and Marie Osmond segment may work for fans of their lame TV variety show, but comes across as just plain lame in this rendition.

The frequent videos by Bradley Bergeron are displayed on a collection of nine large-screen TV monitors in the center of Julie Allardice Ray’s set. The videos are professionally curated, but all too frequent. And when we get to the military anthem medley near the end of the show, we’re shown faces of veterans with the borders of the nine screens forming bars across their eyes and mouths, leaving just noses to behold.

Otherwise, the set is lovely, with a collection of wood circles that suggest both snowflakes and gears. The band is up center, so they can be seen without being too much in view. Stair segments allow a variety of set-ups for various numbers. There’s plenty of bare stage to allow dancing, and the circular design is enhanced by a painting on the stage floor, balanced by a large wooden circle hanging above the stage that almost looks like a reflection of the large circle upstage in which the video screens reside.

Music director Ann-Carol Pence has done her usual fine job, giving us excellent accompaniment and splendid and splendidly balanced harmonies. The vocals are superb in the a cappella selections that start the second act, although they are justified lamely in the script by having a mock power failure interrupt the show to end the first act. Jen MacQueen’s choreography is lively and certainly not beyond the capabilities of the cast. She reserves the big dance solo for her own tap number. My favorite bit was the rousing "Deck the Halls a Plenty" in the first act.

Bradley Bergeron’s lighting is fine, as is Rob Brooksher’s sound design. Alan Yeong’s costumes are more of a mixed bag. Some of the holiday-themed costumes are terrific, but the less festive ones are less remarkable. Many show off what looks like a disfiguring tattoo on the left shoulder of Ms. MacQueen. But while many jokes are made about her age (older than the rest of the cast), no mention is made of the tattoo.

There’s another significant omission in the show. Video clips are presented of several performers from previous Aurora shows, wishing all a happy holiday. These clips are targeted toward regular Aurora attendees, who will remember these actors, and would probably be of little interest to out-of-town guests. But where is a clip from Brandon O’Dell? He is credited as writer of this year’s show and has hosted the past several iterations, but his absence this year is not remarked upon.

There’s a cute bit in the video clips where the sound is faded out by sound board operator Andrew Cleveland as his parents (Mary Lynn Owen and Rob Cleveland) tell an embarrassing story about him. At the performance I attended, though, the clip also started with the volume muted. The joke fell flat when the sound volume was obviously turned up, then down. There were also several instances of a mike’s sound level being adjusted upward after the first few words of an actor’s song or line.

There’s tons of talent on stage. Christian Magby gets to play the piano, which he does as expertly as he sings. Lyndsay Ricketson Brown shows off her acrobatic skills on the silks (although somewhat incongruously to a rendition of West Side Story’s "Somewhere" by the immensely charismatic Chani Maisonet). Cecil Washington, Jr. gets to do a gender-reversed version of "Don’t Rain on My Parade" (as Mr. Magby does with "And I Am Telling You"). The ensemble (Daisean Garrett, Cheyanne Osoria, and Benjamin Strickland) also come off well, although Mr. Strickland’s excellent singing and fine dancing aren’t accompanied by the easy stage presence all the others possess.

Co-directors Anthony P. Rodriguez and Jen MacQueen have created a version of "Christmas Canteen" that revisits many of the tried-and-true elements of past revisions, while adding new bits that in general fall flat. There’s tremendous talent and fine performances, but the whole thing has a slick professional veneer that covers a lack of heart and true Christmas spirit. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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