By Liz Christensen
Sugar Factory Playhouse’s Five Carols for Christmas is a quick, cute holiday show about five best friends named “Carol” who enjoy singing together and traditionally put on a Christmas show in their small-town school. A 30-minute Act I involves their pre-show preparations and a slightly longer Act II portrays their performance. Written by Jim Christian with music arranged by Kenneth Plain, the show is a mix of Forever Plaid and Noises Off with a holiday feel and showcasing female 5-part harmonies. Each “Carol” is distinctive in her personality and helpfully distinguishes herself from the others with a nickname she explains through the titular song. The characters are one-dimensional, and the story is more premise than plot, but this show seems crafted specifically to give the Baby Boomer generation a sweet-sounding musical revue with many nostalgic references and a healthy dose of holiday cheer. And in that regard, it really delivers.
Plain’s original compositions vary between a cheerful, spirited bounce and shiny jazz. His adaptations of classic Christmas carols are full and rich. The mix between new and traditional music is effective. Directed by Michelle Groves, the five women cast as “Carol” in 5 Carols for Christmas are excellently selected, each actress a unique and completely believable match to her character. The cast delivers a polished performance. Music Director Marla Hintze forges a lovely ensemble blend with the differing voices. Act I’s “O Christmas Tree” is bright and warm. “Five Carols for Christmas” at the top of Act II is vocal fusion. Costume Design by Groves was apropos. The costumes for “Worldwide Santa Claus Parade” were excellent. Sound Design by Robbie Dalley and Mikey Welling stuck an exemplary balance between the music track and the mics. Set Design by Groves is well-furnished and homey in Act I and smartly relies on the charm and natural advantages of the venue for Act II. Suitable Light Design by Dalley was enhanced by practicals in the pre-show set up that really set the mood.
Character Carol Ann Farrell (Ann Sharp) is the organizer of the five women and, as soloist, her singing kicks off both Act I and Act II. Her number “Dress up Your Shelter for Christmas” was first-rate comedy and execution. Carroll “Ling-Ling” Ling (Megan Smyth) embodies family holiday cheer. Smyth is outstanding with physical comedy in “Good King Wencleslas” and bubbly delivers smooth comedic punctuations to the show. Sassy character Car’l “Noyesy” Noyes (Larissa Betty Villers Ferre) brings some fun humor to Act I, especially some lovely subtle, precise comedy to “Ding, Dong, Merrily on High.” That number’s Act II reprise is the highpoint of the show, a hilarious climax to all that has gone delightfully awry before the presentation of a sweet, simple moral at the end. Twice divorced Queryl “Miss Q” Pomerantz (Amanda VandenAkker) is relatable and better developed. VandenAkker plays her with feminine fun and feeling, still delivering a depth and sincerity to the character’s valuable Act II insights. Karil “Kitty” Kitteridge (Robyn Green) presents another 1950s ideal housewife, a natural frenemy to Sharp, who starts off “Christmas Dish” with gossipy interest. As a beautiful woman portraying a self-concerned character, Green wins over with an unassuming, lovely voice. The character who steals the show is Cousin Ray (Travis Green) who, without singing or dialogue, drops the most priceless comedic nuggets.
Little children in the audience struggled with interest in Act I during some of the more beautiful numbers and understandably failed to catch the references. There is a fun chance for children to participate with the cast in Act II’s “Toyland,” a number the cast infuses with lovely feeling, that is deftly managed by Ferre followed by even more moments that easily capture a child’s interest.
The selection of Five Carols for Christmas for performance at Midvale Performing Arts Center was an excellent choice of show for that venue. The house is both cozy and open. Seating is general admission. With a sweet, jocular tone, a bounty of beautiful music, and a foolproof cast of synergistic singers this cornball comedy Five Carols for Christmas is a sentimental journey fit for a tinsel holiday.
Sugar Factory Playhouse and West Jordan Theater Arts present 5 Carols for Christmas by Jim Christian and Kenneth Plain
Midvale Performing Arts Center, 695 W. Center Street (7720 South) Midvale, Utah 84047
December 7-9, 11, 15-16, 18 7:30 PM, December 9 2:00 PM
Tickets: $5-$8 ($1 OFF YOUR TICKET for every food donation!)
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5 Carols for Christmas Facebook Event