'The Most Wonderful Time of the Year' makes its world premiere.
When we use the expressions, “I’ll be home for the holidays” or “I’ll see you after the holidays,” we are pretty much thinking in general terms when referring to December. Well, according to the folks at the Olney Theatre Center, which is currently mounting an enjoyable musical revue, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, there are nearly a thousand religious, national and just plain fun holidays during December.
|From left: Patricia Hurley, Kaiyla Gross, Nick Lehan and Jay Frisby|
Of course, Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa are best known and celebrated worldwide, but there are others, such as National Cookie Cutter Day (December 1), National Mutt Day (December 2), and my favorite National Re-gifting Day (December 15), with December being Write a Friend Month and the more sobering World AIDS/HIV Awareness Month.
But in The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, which is making its world premiere, four talented performers focus on Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa, and for good measure they throw in Festivus, a fictional holiday that had been born from a Seinfeld episode.
Sharing the Olney campus with the groundbreaking Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Paul Morella’s brilliant one-man show A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas, this 75-minute cabaret at the 1938 Original Theatre amplifies the holiday spirit at Olney through song and comedy. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year brings out those aspects of the holidays that are common to all. Gatherings of family and friends, the presents, the movies, the food, the prayers, the singing and dancing, and the resulting memories demonstrate that people can and should celebrate all the holidays.
Under the direction of Kevin McAllister, who created this work, and the vocal arrangements and orchestration of Christopher Youstra with his 5-piece orchestra, the 4 talented performers in the revue—all who had previously starred on the Olney stage—display their versatility with solid comic timing and excellent vocals. Patricia Hurley (Elf, Mary Poppins) Kaiyla Gross (Miss You Like Hell), Nick Lehan (Pippin), and Jay Frisby (The Music Man), have the charisma and talent to make this holiday cabaret a joyful experience.
Through musical numbers and dialogue, each one in the quartet takes a turn in guiding us through the holidays with the rest of the cast joining in. Some songs are solos while others are group numbers.
Patricia Hurley effectively leads the Christmas segment with some of her personal memories, with the group singing an assortment of popular songs including, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “The Christmas Song,” “Snow,” a humorous version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and “(There’s No Place Like) Home For the Holidays.” During this section amusing clips from a few old Christmas movies are projected on to a screen upstage.
In a shorter segment, Jay Frisby explains the origin of Festivus and what it means. Festivus as depicted on Seinfeld occurs on December 23 and includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, practices such as the “airing of grievances” and “feats of strength” and the labeling of easily explainable events as “Festivus miracles.” Using his superb tenor voice, Mr. Frisby takes the lead in the song “Festivus (For the Rest of Us).” And then the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” is performed proving any song is a Festivus song.
"From the outset, this revue brings joy and fun..."
The foursome then embarks on identifying some of “the worst Christmas songs ever.” “Last Christmas,” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Jingle Bell Rock” made the infamous cut. Personally, I like some of those songs, but what do I know?
Using a Kwanzaa Kinara, a candelabra, Kaiyla Gross, who also choreographed the show, does a splendid job of guiding the audience through the background of Kwanzaa and its meaning. She explains that this December holiday is for people of all religions and backgrounds.
Ms. Gross and the others perform “Kwanzaa-Umoja-Uhuru (Swahili) (First Fruits of the Harvest-Unity-Freedom),” “All Good Gifts” and “Stand By Me.”
Energetic and at times campy Nick Lehan presents the story behind Chanukah though he was raised Catholic but grew up in a Jewish community. In this segment, “Light One Candle” is performed followed by arguably the showstopper “Bohemian Chanukah,” a hilarious adaptation of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Finally, in what is called the Epilogue, the group performs favorite standards, “Winter Wonderland,” “Let it Snow” and wraps it up with “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
From the outset, this revue brings joy and fun and allows the audience to reflect on what the spirit of the holiday season holds for each. Said program creator Kevin McAllister, “I truly believe that celebrating what makes communities unique is the perfect way to connect individuals from different backgrounds.”
These talented performers bring their own special skills, styles, personalities and lived experiences to the stage and enjoy themselves as much as the audience did.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is cheerful entertainment during this holiday season that blends a mixture of laughter, warmth, nostalgia and reflection, and perhaps most importantly, coming together. It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.
Running time. One hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year runs through December 31 at the 1938 Original Theatre at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832.
Regular Performances are Fridays - Saturdays, 7:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on December 28. Thursday at 1:30 p.m. on December 22. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. on December 22 and 28. Friday at 1:30 p.m. on December 30. There are no performances on Saturday, December 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 25.
Tickets are available from $30 - 60 and can be purchased here or 301-924-3400. Discounts are available for groups, seniors, military and students.