Theater Review: Uh-Oh…Here Comes Christmas spreads holiday cheer

Pec Playhouse ushers in the holidays with a clever Christmas review. Based on books by Robert Fulghum, the series of vignettes covers everything from The Christmas Pageant to A Holiday Wedding. The company has become familiar to audiences. Diane Grosvenor-Johnson, Brad Keyes, Glen Wiegert, and the Barkdoll family have appeared in many productions, and their stage craft continues to improve.

Stephanie Portzer directs, making her debut in that capacity. In her notes, she voices appreciation to her crew, especially Pam Barkdoll and to Mark Kann and Bill Beard. Kann’s musical direction and keyboard accompaniment are vital to the pacing of the production. Beard’s lifetime experience in theater gives the cast essential direction in drama and voice. The talent of these two gentlemen is evident in nearly every show at Pec.

The show opens and closes with Jerry Vanderheyden’s Scrooge complaining as usual about the unwelcome traditions of the season. With Janice Thompson and Rita Geary as well-endowed Vegas showgirls, he musically describes the holiday in “Uh-Oh… Here Comes Christmas.” Brad Keyes evolves into a natural storyteller. In describing the generational support of the Salvation Army, he lends a special poignancy to the evening. Patrick Barkdoll appears throughout the evening as a loving father, a dreamer of past childhood, and with the company in “The Refrigerator and Confessions.” Clad in a ratty bathrobe, he describes the midnight raids of the refrigerator. The menu would never be found on the Food Network.

Always the professional, Diane Grosvenor-Johnson also plays a major role. As the grandmother in A Holiday Wedding, her description of the mixed marriage emphasizes the common traditions we all hold dear. As the recipient of the Poinsettia that never dies, she relates the experience we all share…what to do with the thing when the holidays are over. Plant euthanasia is one solution. Opening night held a few glitches, but the show is well paced and provides an evening filled with laughs and a few tender moments.

Having seen Pec’s production of The Man of La Mancha and later seeing the play at Court Theatre in Chicago, I shared with Kann and Beard the news that the Court Theatre production has received several Jeff Awards for excellence. Jeffs are Chicago’s Tonys. In my reviews, the Pec production received accolades. “Now for the comparison…Scott Chacula and Margie Bartscher on the small stage at Pec Playhouse sang the same score with heart and dedication. Their portrayals gave an intensity of emotion sometimes lacking at Court Theatre.”

If the local version had run in Chicago, they would have received the Jeffs. Running through Dec. 3, Uh-Oh… Here Comes Christmas is a good way to get in the mood for the holidays. For ticket information, call 239-1210. Ask for a brochure describing the entire season.

From the Nov. 22-28, 2006, issue

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