Wichita theatergoers have a lot of nifty gifts to unwrap during this holiday season, and the offerings range from traditional Broadway musical to broad melodrama to a couple of nostalgic 1940s radio-era treats.
There are 10 holiday-themed live stage shows opening from now through Christmas, with three of them geared specifically to children. Here’s a look at what Santa is pulling out of his bag of surprises in chronological order from opening dates:
Guest actors Nick Madsen and Trish Epperson, who helped launch the reopening of Crown Uptown under new ownership and management in 2011, are back to reprise their roles in this 2008 stage adaptation of the 1954 Bing Crosby/Rosemary Clooney classic holiday movie musical.
Madson plays song-and-dance man Bob Wallace and Epperson plays Betty Haynes, half of a sister dance act, who join forces – both professionally and romantically – to help save a Vermont ski lodge owned by a friend from being foreclosed. Joining them are Darren French as Phil, Bob’s brash and breezy war buddy and dancing partner, and Brittney Morton as Judy, Betty’s impetuous younger sister and dance partner.
Ken Gale is Gen. Waverly, the guys’ old commanding officer and owner of the troubled lodge; Paula Makar and Stephanie Dennis alternate as Martha, the lodge’s housekeeper; Brianna Bombardier is the general’s 12-year-old granddaughter, Susan; and Ben Cramer is the lodge’s eccentric handyman, Ezekiel.
All the glorious music is by Irving Berlin, including songs not in the original movie but added from Berlin’s songbook because they fleshed out the story musically. Among classics are “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and, of course, the Oscar-winning title tune.
The show has become an annual holiday tradition, but Matthew Rumsey, who is directing for the third time, says it isn’t a rerun because of new staging from him and new choreography from Gigi Gans. The set and costumes have also been “freshened” from past editions.
Carol Hughes writes and Cindy Summers directs this original holiday melodrama about a group of popular toys dumped by a villainous toymaker into the limbo of a place called Derbysville and replaced by misfit toys to try to ruin Christmas.
The baddie, Mr. Potter of C.O.B.R.A. Toys, is played by Scott Noah. The hero and heroine are GI Joe Joe (Steve Hitchcock) and Barbie (Jenny Mitchell), who concoct a plan to save the toys and get the holiday back on schedule. Among their righteous army are Patty Reeder as Chatty Cathy, Briley Meek as Malibu Barbie and Michael Karraker as Ken (as well as a few other quick roles).
Accompanying the melodrama is “A Very Mosley Christmas,” an original musical revue written and directed by Patty Reeder, music directed by Karla Burns and choreographed by Steve Hitchcock that features the same performers, but in glamorous holiday attire. The music ranges from traditional Christmas carols to contemporary holiday ditties plus a “Twelve Days of Christmas” spoof.
This annual holiday music and comedy revue takes on a mid-century, Rat Pack, lounge-inspired look and feel this year, although the music will range up to the present, says director Christi Moore, who co-wrote the script with longtime collaborator and fellow performer Kyle Vespestad.
Moore and Vespestad also perform, joined by veterans Monte Riegel Wheeler and Angela Geer. Backing them up is music director Rich Bruhn on keyboards with Ron Smith on guitar, John Probst on bass and Steve Hatfield on drums.
The four will team in various musical combinations, but also get solo showcases from Geer’s powerful “O Holy Night” to Wheeler’s haunting “River” to Moore and Vespestad rocking out a playful “Merry Christmas, Baby.”
On the comedy side, Vespestad will reprise his popular Gingerbread Man character while Wheeler does his game show host persona and Moore brings back Franny Sadsack. Geer will do her famous Badass Betty from “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.”
Playwright Joe Landry adapted Frank Capra’s 1946 classic film into a 1996 play that’s performed as a live 1940s radio broadcast in front of a studio audience where a handful of actors perform all 51 roles.
“Originally, it called for only five actors – three men and two women – but since we’re Community Theatre, we expanded the cast to 10 so that characters wouldn’t be talking to themselves in the same scene,” said director Misty Maynard. “Still, some still take up to 10 roles each. We’re giving each of them something to immediately distinguish them, like a hat or a pipe or an accent.”
D.J. Canfield is George Bailey, the good guy whose life is accidentally thrown into such chaos that he wishes he’d never been born. Miranda Windholz is Mary, his loving and patient wife, and Glenn Williams is Clarence, George’s bumbling guardian angel who shows him what the world would have been like if, indeed, he hadn’t been around to make a difference.
Also in the cast are Bob Neufeld as George’s nemesis, Mr. Potter, and Ben Blankley as George’s heroic soldier brother, Harry, along with Mike Shryock, Gaye Tibbets, Jessica Gaddis and Josie Dolenz in numerous roles. Megan E. Smith will play both the radio stage manager and the sound effects person working her magic with all manner of gadgets on a table.
“The setting is the inside of a radio station and the play audience will be the studio audience,” Maynard says. “We are projecting set pieces on two screens to help audiences know where the characters are, whether in a bank or a drugstore soda shop. We’ve done projected sets before, but not so many.”
Period 1940s costumes are provided by Mary Tush-Green and pre-broadcast singers doing Christmas carols will be led by Pamella Hartley.
“Radio would seem to be a little stagnant because the actors are tied to their mikes,” Maynard says. “But our people are creative about doing interesting bits of business without detracting from the dialogue.”
This holiday sequel to “The 1940s Radio Hour” by David Wohl (music), Walton Jones (lyrics) and Faye Greenberg (book) takes place in 1943 in a hole-in-the-wall studio in New Jersey where a rag-tag band of amateur performers tries to put a contemporary spin on Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” with the help of a big-name guest star.
Anything that can go wrong does, from electrical blackouts to misplaced sound effects to noisy plumbing and scene-chewing actors trying to one-up each other.
Mike Roark directs this nostalgic and sentimental musical and also plays Cholly, a shoe salesman getting a chance to flex his thespian muscles. Kip Scott is the crusty radio station owner and Shane Konicki is his jack-of-all-trades station employee.
Tim Robu is the imperious guest star, William St. Claire, who is surrounded by star-struck players like Sarah Gale McQuery as Sally, a Rosie-the-Riveter factory worker by day; Keely Connolly as Judith, another blue-collar worker; and Ryan Ehresman as Little Jackie, an eager teen. Steve Rue as Toots accompanies at the piano.
When musician Paul Jackson was commissioned to compose a new musical version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to become an annual holiday tradition for the Forum Theatre, he had veteran Music Theatre of Wichita tenor Shaun-Michael Morse in mind as Scrooge. But Morse wasn’t available when the show premiered in 2011 so Jackson sang the lead role himself. And again in 2012.
But for this third year, Jackson says he is thrilled that Morse is available and that the role will be sung by the actor it was intended for. Jackson will now be director for a slightly revised version (co-written with local author Conrad Jestmore) that adds a new production number as well as a new take on the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Returning cast members include Karla Burns as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Cary Hesse as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Meg Osborne Parsley as Mrs. Cratchit and Ted Woodward as Joe the Ragpicker. New cast members include Dan Campbell as Bob Cratchit, Ted Dvorak as his nephew Fred, Jeff Dary as Scrooge’s dead partner Marley, Courtney Linville as Scrooge’s lost love Belle, and Larry Hartley and Liz Dary as the jovial Fezziwigs. Lillian Willis will play Tiny Tim.
The streamlined show will be performed in 90 minutes without an intermission, and music director Tim Raymond will lead a small chamber orchestra of piano, harp, cello, violin and flute to accompany singers.
Also new this year is an optional holiday dinner to be served in the Forum’s decorated banquet hall starting at 6:30 p.m. for $15 extra.
You probably wouldn’t think of “Annie” as a Christmas show, but it has a big holiday finale so director Deb Campbell thinks it’s perfect for this family time of year.
Tony’s best musical of 1977 is based on the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip about a spunky, 10-year-old red-haired all-American waif who softens the heart of ruthless tycoon Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. It’s become a heartwarming classic because of songs like “Hard-Knock Life,” “Easy Street,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and, of course, the ubiquitous “Tomorrow.”
Dakota Ratliff is the irrepressible urchin, Gilbert Pearce is Daddy Warbucks, Molly Tully is Warbucks’ overly competent Girl Friday (and ultimately romantic interest) and Gina Austin is the crabby and vindictive orphanage manager, Miss Hannigan.
As Christmas approaches, Holly and Polly, two young elf toymakers who work in Santa’s factory, become caught up in wacky holiday shenanigans when their headmaster, Jacques, has some ideas for making their jobs more efficient.
Meanwhile, the sinister Jack-in-the-Box damages Santa’s favorite toy, Norman the Toy Soldier, out of jealousy while Pablo, the toy turtle that nobody seems to want, becomes a hero when he rallies the toys to stand up to Jack.
Based on the popular “Junie B.” books aimed at early elementary kids, this new comedy will be a Wichita premiere, said director Kyle Vespestad. “We’ve been doing three holiday shows in rotation for several years, so it’s exciting to do something totally new.”
The show is performed by the adult company of Wichita Children’s Theatre for youngsters ages 2 to 8, and it features audience participation.
The holiday story revolves around Junie B., the class clown, who, for a Secret Santa gift, draws the name of a classmate she doesn’t like. She gleefully thinks about how horrified the girl will be when she opens her anonymous gift and sees something awful. But the season takes hold of Junie B.’s better nature and teaches her the true meaning of giving.
Playing Junie B. is Kelly Wonsetler. Among others playing kids in the class are Joice Henry and Kyle Vespestad.
Monica Flynn can’t believe that this year’s encore of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” will be the 30th anniversary local production – and Flynn’s 28th as director.
“It’s a classic. It’s beautiful. It’s a much-beloved story about the season. That’s why we keep bringing it back since 1983,” Flynn says. “It also gives a chance for us to cast 120 people – 60 each in two different casts – each season to play everything from baby angels to parents and teachers. We get a lot of people involved.”
This heartwarming comedy revolves around six kids who start out as disciplinary nightmares – “hoodlums,” Flynn says with a laugh – but gradually evolve into better versions of themselves after they are cast in their school Christmas pageant and walk in the shoes of Mary and Joseph, the Magi and the Angel for a while.