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A Christmas Survival Guide
a Holiday Musical
by James Hindman and Ray Roderick

COMPANY : Stage Door Players [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Stage Door Players [WEBSITE]
ID# 3855

SHOWING : December 03, 2010 - December 19, 2010



Armed with a copy of “A Christmas Survival Guide” and an optimistic attitude, we charge into the holiday landscape searching for the true essence of Christmas. In songs and vignettes, we learn to cope with the season in ways that are both hilarious and heartwarming.

Director Robert Egizio
Musical Director Linda Uzelac
Costume Design Jim Alford
Sound Design Dan Bauman
Stage Manager Leslye Kahn
Lighting Design Michael Magursky
Scenic Design Chuck Welcome
Second Keyboard Donnie Papenbrock
Percussion John David Williams
Cast Wendy Melkonian
Cast Marcie Millard
Cast Craig Waldrip
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Performances Trump the Material
by playgoer
Sunday, December 5, 2010
"A Christmas Survival Guide" isn't a well-constructed show. Things don't build. There are slow numbers that slow down the action; there are peppy numbers that pep up the action. The show purportedly follows a self-help guide to coping with the holidays, but it's a very loose premise that doesn't make much sense. This is a Christmas show, but there's a New Year's number smack in the middle of the first act. Later, in the second act, after it's been established that the piano player is Jewish, she quotes the nativity story from the New Testament. There's no coherent story or throughline to help the viewer gauge when the ending is near at hand. There are clever bits scattered throughout, but they don't add up to much of anything.

The set's a little bit of the same thing. There are a lot of elements, but they don't all hang together terribly well. There's a Santa sleigh, a park bench, a couple of low brick walls and lamp posts, a Burl Ives snowman/narrator, some evergreen trees, a flimsy gazebo with unbalanced decorations that serves to house the band, and background silhouettes of a city skyline that appear to be left over from "Company." It's attractive and festive at a quick glimpse, but it's nothing more.

The songs in the show are pre-existing holiday songs, some well known and some not. "There's not much melody" was the comment from the person next to me. The cast have wonderful voices, but the material doesn't really help make them shine. The arrangements, while well-played under the direction of Linda Uzelac, aren't designed to highlight these particular three voices.

So what makes the show worthwhile? The lighting, for one thing. Michael W. Magursky has designed an ambitious lighting scheme that works extremely well to spotlight the action. The costumes, by Jim Alford, while not to my liking in style, certainly add some visual variety. But it's the performances that make the show. Wendy Melkonian is an Atlanta treasure whose rapport with the audience is sly and charming and totally delightful. Marcie Millard combines subtle, original acting choices with broad comedic chops and a great set of pipes. Craig Waldrip, while appearing a bit callow in the company of these near-iconic female performers, acquits himself well.

Each of the performers has a particular highlight number. For Wendy Melkonian, it's "Surabaya Santa," a clever number by Jason Robert Brown that plays off the patterns of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's "Surabaya Johnny" to describe the less-than-delightful relationship of Mrs. Claus with her neglectful husband. For Craig Waldrip, it's a stirringly sung "O Holy Night." For Marcie Millard, it's a wonderfully acted, manic rendition of "The Twelve Steps of Christmas." For the group as a whole, I'd say it's "Sleigh Ride," which has the only blocking/choreography I found inventive and entertaining. (Actually, given the paucity of dancing in the show, I find it baffling that dancing-talented director Robert Egizio would bother to hire Anthony Owen as choreographer.)

Marcie Millard and Wendy Melkonian don't restrict their delights to their highlight numbers, though. Together, they work as backup reindeer to Santa (Craig Waldrip) who draw a few audience members briefly into the action. It's wonderful to see Wendy Melkonian interact happily with a couple of participants, in contrast to Marcie Millard's unwilling portrayal of a lowly reindeer. It's the little moments in the show that make it worthwhile. Just watching these two singers/actresses throw away a line here and there brings a smile to the lips and joy to the heart. These two ladies are a "happy holiday" present to Atlanta from Stage Door Players. I, for one, am truly thankful for this gift. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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