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Aurora Christmas Canteen 2010

a Holiday Show
CATEGORY : COMEDY MUSICAL
by Brandon O'Dell

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 3885

SHOWING : November 26, 2010 - December 23, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Gwinnett’s longest running theatrical holiday tradition, Aurora’s sentimental musical review harkens back to its jukebox roots to span the best of the wartime Canteens mixed with new Christmas standards. It’s a Winter Wonderland that just keeps getting better!


CAST & CREW LIST
Music Director Ann-Carol Pence
Director Anthony Rodriguez
Choreographer Ricardo Aponte
Ensemble Kenya Hamilton
Ensemble Eric D. Moore
Ensemble Jevares Myrick
Ensemble Brandon Odell
Ensemble Charity Brooke Smith
Ensemble Stacey Stone
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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At Long Last
by Dedalus
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
4.5
For the fifteenth year, Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre has put together a holiday revue it likes to call its “Christmas Canteen.” At some times structured like a 60’s era variety show (think “Carol Burnett” or “Smothers Brothers”) and at others like a 40’s era USO canteen, it combines pop hits from different eras in semi-thematic blocks, ties it together with some plotless banter and faux-mercials, and delivers it tied in a bow for the holidays. This is the first year I’ve seen it, and, I have to ask myself, what have been waiting for? This is a delightful show that bristles with talent and energy, and even offers a nostalgic wallow in the sort of entertainments that filled the TV-scapes of my youth. If the “travelogue” sequence reminded me a little too much of the similar parodic sequence in “Pete ‘n’ Keely,” well, here it’s treated with affection, and not disdain.

I have to confess I enjoy this plotless approach far more than the sort of forced narrative that ruined my enjoyment of revues like “Five Guys Named Moe” and “1940’s Radio Hour.” The performers (mostly) play themselves and blithely disregard the period tropes that would ground the production in a single era. It’s as if the history of popular music is the sandbox, and the songs are the toys we all get to play with. That the show (allegedly) changes from year to year will make this one to look forward to in the future.

A cast consisting of Kenya Hamilton, Eric Moore, Jevares Myrick, Charity Brooke Smith, Brandon O’Dell (who also takes a “compiler” credit), and Stacey Elizabeth Stone are all in fine voice and fit-as-a-fiddle physicality, combining simple (and wildly athletic) dance steps with right-as-rain posture and gesture to convey a motley crew of characters and situations. My favorites were the roller skating during the ‘50’s segment (faux-clumsy to perfectly executed), the precision almost-tap for the “Winter Wonderland” finale, the dance-with-a-rag-doll sequence, and, Mr. O’Dell’s “Leader of the Pack” wheels.

I was also glad to see Music Director Ann-Carol Pence add her voice to a couple of ballads, proving she can walk-the-tune as well as talk-the-melody. In general, for a musical revue such as this, you expect the highest standard from behind the piano/baton, and, as usual, Ms. Pence delivers.

On a technical note, the simple bandstand-with-lit-stairs set was a perfect fit, and the razzle-dazzle lights were impressive without being intrusive. I could have lived without some of the projections, as the placement of the screens occasionally distracted from the actors on stage. But, for the most part, all the pieces of the production meshed beautifully and were a joy to behold. The cigarette “commercials” were especially funny and pointed, and, sadly accurate (does anyone else remember the “Oasis” cigarette commercials that featured smokers moving from a cloudy room to a clear forest stream? I couldn’t help thinking of that every time I heard the “tastes like springtime” line).

So, I suppose I could make the excuse that the long trip to Lawrenceville kept me from seeing this show up to now, but I can absolutely guarantee that “Christmas Canteen” will be part of my holiday schedule for, hopefully, many years to come.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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A Holiday Tradition
by playgoer
Monday, November 29, 2010
4.5
This is the 15th year Aurora has done a Christmas Canteen show. The show changes gently from year to year, keeping favorite pieces from the past and adding new material here and there. This year, the Aurora has wisely chosen to celebrate its 15-year milestone by highlighting sequences from previous years. Two large video screens flanking the stage provide visual reminders of past productions.

The book portion of the show works better than I have ever seen at Aurora. The book is minimal (which is one of its greatest assets) and consists largely of humorous parody radio commercials that cleverly tie in some of Aurora's current-day sponsors. As delivered by Brandon O'Dell, there's none of the lame, wince-inducing scripting that previous years have sometimes seen.

With one exception, the roster consists of returning cast members. It's a pretty well-balanced cast, although it's a little thin on dance ability. Aside from one early lindy-style dance by Jevares Myrick and Stacey Stone, there's no "wow" partner dancing. Only Mr. Myrick truly impresses with his solo dancing, although Ms. Stone has a very nice comedy bit on roller skates too. The rest of the cast moves well to Ricardo Aponte's always entertaining choreography, but some of the dance moves seem a bit perfunctory, particularly in the finale. Mr. Aponte's choreography has made more of an impression in previous years.

The set, designed by Amanda Sutt and painted by Sarah Thompson, initially looks a bit amateurish, with a crudely sloped semi-circular contraption center stage, painted in ice blue and glacier green. It looks much better when it's rotated in two sections at the start of the show, forming matching staircases on either side of the band platform. The staircases have risers that light up in different colors, which adds a bit of visual appeal to the show. Otherwise, lighting is a bit haphazard, with an over-reliance on spotlights to light the action.

The fifty songs in the show move along swiftly, with most taking full advantage of the choral effects possible with six voices. The women in particular sound best when singing as a group. Not all songs are holiday-related; one section is devoted to U.S. travel songs and another section concentrates on 50's rock-and-roll songs. There's certainly a spirit of the holiday throughout, though, so the season doesn't get lost in these sections.

Each of the cast members excels in his or her own way. Stacey Stone always sparkles onstage, going all-out when her fellow cast members sometimes seem to be saving their energy for later in the show. Brandon O'Dell brings his wry, understated sense of comedy to everything he does. Eric Moore works best when letting a goofy side show in numbers like "A Pair of Loafers." Kenya Hamilton shines brightest in her audience interaction at the start of act two. Jevares Myrick, apart from his fine dancing, does some comic radio sound effects in the "Freddy the Freeloader" sequence. Newcomer Charity Brooke Smith makes the strongest impression when she is acting, not just singing and dancing. Her performances of "Then He Kissed Me" and "Leader of the Pack" work wonderfully well, with her sincerity contrasting with the deadpan silliness of Mr. O'Dell.

As always at Aurora, the music sounds great, as does Ann-Carol Pence in her occasional solo songs. The sound system was making occasional rumbles at the performance I saw, but ideally that will improve during the run. There should be no distractions when listening to the terrific arrangements in this show, performed by this experienced cast. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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