You probably haven’t thrown out your Halloween jack-o’-lantern or begun to thaw your Thanksgiving turkey yet, but Christmas is banging on your door big time – at least from Wichita stages.
Three local live-performance venues are raising the curtains this first week of November on their annual holiday shows of music, dance and comedy, with plans to run all the way through the two-month season – some on a nightly basis as Christmas gets close.
And three more theaters will join the merry-making marathon just as soon as you push away from the table on Thanksgiving weekend.
Santa has a little something for everyone in his bag of theatrical presents, from glittering Broadway extravaganzas to serious historical drama to wacky melodramas and variety shows that take a breezy satirical swipe at all the annual machinations.
And that doesn’t count the half-a-dozen venues offering live shows specifically geared to the youngest members of the audience.
Here’s a look at what’s coming to help you organize your holiday theater-going.
Opening this week:
Mosley Street Melodrama
The cleverly absurd titles are half the fun of Mosley Street Melodrama’s original, locally written scripts, and this holiday’s offering is no exception: “Shakespeare’s MacBethlehem Christmas, or Wherefore Art Thou, Saint Nick?” It’s written by Tom Frye, longtime local actor, director and theater teacher, and directed by Cindy Summers.
The story involves an actor, jailed by an arts-hating politician, who escapes to put on a Christmas show in the arts-starved town of MacBethlehem, Kan. He disguises himself as part of a Shakespearean troupe to give some Bard-ish eloquence to the holiday pageant.
Playing the actor, named Billy Joe, the melodrama’s requisite hero, is Steve Hitchcock. The heroine, Bobbie Jean, is Jenny Mitchell. The heroine’s mom, Betty June, is Patty Reeder, and the vamp, Bessie Jane, is Briley Meek. Michael Karraker is Sheriff Bubba Jim, and Scott Noah is Samuel O. Brownshirt as the politician.
Musical director Tony Harshbarger will provide all the appropriate melodrama musical flourishes and accompany cast members during a holiday musical olio afterward.
Cabaret Oldtown’s holiday show is “Crazy Christmas,” a pastiche of holiday music and comedy. It’s an original mash-up put together by Christi Moore (who also directs) and Kyle Vespestad (who also choreographs), bringing back some favorite moments from past holiday shows and giving them a fresh new spin with new material.
Performing are Moore, Vespestad and Monte Wheeler, along with Denny Grilliot and the Cabaret Oldtown Band: Rich Bruhn, Ron Smith, John Probst and Steve Hatfield.
“The show will feature some beautiful holiday music, including ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ and ‘I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,’ as well as some fun new versions of ‘Jingle Bells,’ ‘Up on the Housetop’ and others,” Moore said. “Holiday sketches include a tribute to old Bing Crosby specials (‘At Home With the Gingerbread Man’), our own holiday game show, a visit from a department-store Santa and, of course, the Kyle and Monte Christmas Medley.”
Crown Uptown Theatre
Artistic director Matthew Rumsey is bringing back the stage adaptation of “White Christmas” for a second year to establish a holiday tradition for the theater, which launched under new ownership one year ago with this Broadway show, based on the beloved 1954 Bing Crosby movie. But Rumsey isn’t worried about audience deja vu.
“We wanted to do it as an annual thing, but it will be fresh because we have all new leads, costumes and sets,” Rumsey said. “It’s the same story, but we have a chance to expand and play around a bit more with the musical numbers with a larger ensemble (now 12). In future years, we plan to alternate it with other new holiday musicals like ‘Elf’ or ‘A Christmas Story.’ ”
The story, set in post-World War II America, concerns a pair of song-and-dance Army buddies who team with a singing sister act to put on a show to save a failing ski lodge owned by their retired commanding general. It’s all set to Irving Berlin standards, such as “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “How Deep Is the Ocean” and, of course, the ubiquitous title tune.
Playing Bob (the Crosby role) is Daniel Hines, a Colorado native coming to Wichita directly from a tour of “Irving Berlin’s ‘I Love a Piano.’ ” His irrepressible side-kick Phil (the Danny Kaye role) is Trey Getz, an Atlanta native now based in New York. Illinois native and recent Millikin University graduate Cara Chumbley is older, wiser sister Betty (the Rosemary Clooney role), and Boston native Sarah Beling is impressionable sister Judy (the Vera-Ellen role).
Rumsey is directing, with music director Jesse Warkentin leading the orchestra.
Opening later this month:
The big news this holiday season, said Prairie Pines co-owner Kip Scott, is that the theater has undergone a considerable enlargement, adding 1,200 square feet and a new bar area to give audiences more room to spread out.
“The whole idea was to make what used to be an old tractor barn more comfortable and customer-friendly,” Scott said.
Christening the new space will be “The Greatest Christmas Stories Ever Re-Told: Part Deux,” written and directed by Mike Roark as a sequel of sorts to the resident troupe’s holiday shows first presented in 2007.
“It’s a variety show in the vein of the old ‘Carol Burnett Show,’ ” Roark said. “It’s heavy on sketch comedy with parody songs, and it’s definitely family-friendly. We don’t want to do anything to spoil the holiday magic.”
Among highlight sketches are “Santa’s Sweatshop” and a send-up of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” While the show is 90 percent scripted, Roark said cast members traditionally evolve the fun by polishing ad libs that work and dropping lines that don’t.
Besides Roark, returning players include Wichita’s power acting couple, Tim and Karen Robu, Sienna Atchison, Jordan Voth, Scott and Mary Valdez.
The Forum Theatre
Last Christmas, the then-new Forum commissioned an original musical version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” specifically to become an annual holiday tradition and signature piece for the theater. The positive audience and critical reaction was everything that director Kathryn Page Hauptman had hoped for, and she said she is pleased to bring back the work this year – but with a few tweaks.
“We’re adding some more music and beefing up a couple of the parts to give them more to do, such as the number for the Ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooge’s transformational soliloquy,” she said. “We’re also adding layers to the sound effects from what we learned last year during the premiere. We’re not radically changing anything, just adding to it, because the audience told us how moving and inspiring it was.”
The music and lyrics are by Wichita composer Paul Jackson, who also starred as Scrooge last year, and the book is by local author Conrad Jestmore. Besides Jackson, returning to re-create their roles are Karla Burns as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Cary Hesse as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Kylie Jo Smith as Scrooge’s lost love and Ted Woodward as Joe the Ragpicker. Music director Tim Raymond will conduct the six-piece orchestra.
Wichita Community Theatre
For the first time, director Crystal Meek said, Wichita Community Theatre is expanding to a four-weekend (Thursdays through Sundays) run of its holiday show, a wacky comedy with holiday music called “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!).”
It’s about three actors who just can’t face putting on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” the usual way anymore and decide to jazz it up by throwing in bits and pieces of – as the title suggests – every holiday story, pageant, song and exotic, esoteric or just plain weird tradition from around they world they can think of. It’s written by Michael Carleton, James FitzGerald and John K. Alvarez, with original music by William Knapp.
Meek said there’s a warning on the show – perhaps tongue-in-cheek – that if you see this madcap romp of mix-and-match costumes, plotlines and characters, you’ll never be able to sit through “A Christmas Carol” again without laughing out loud.
Playing the fearless, adventurous and decidedly mischievous trio are Mark Anderson, Kevin Sowers and Clint McCorkle. Meek is directing, with Pam Hartley and Curtis Proctor as musical directors.