STORY WRITTEN BY CHRIS CAMERON
For 21st Century Media
If you’re looking for an old-fashioned Christmas, the American Music Theatre in Lancaster has it. Their 2014 Christmas Show: Joy to the World captures the magic of the holiday seasons of yesteryear in a 2-hour-plus production that is sure to bring smiles to the whole family.
Artistic director Andrea McCormick and her team of artists and performers have crafted a colorful journey through the spirit of the holiday season through song, dance, and an elaborate set of rotating Christmas villages. The performances range from inspirational to light-hearted holiday humor, driven by a 10-piece orchestra and a cast of over 20 performers.
The show opens with the “Spirit of the Season” in a Christmas village bustling with life. Kids ride by on bicycles, while some shop with their parents. The show quickly transitions into “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” with an ice-skating rink, a Salvation Army band, and an orchestra in the background performing on balconies evoking a Dixieland style complete with a ragtime medley. There’s even a show dog, Oliver, a two-year-old cavachon, who steals scenes with his doggone cuteness.
As the show segues into a modern pop version of “Joy to the World” the stage is once again bursting with the both the sounds and sights of the season. There’s an ice cream vendor, a popcorn vendor that works his way into the audience to deliver bags of popcorn to children in the audience, a cotton candy vendor, and games for the child actors on stage — a ring toss and a carousel. At times, it’s an overload of sights and sounds on stage that will keep younger audience members enthralled.
As the first act continues the set changes over to homes on stage left and stage right, giving audience members an intimate glimpse into different family holiday celebrations. Mom and dad sing “The Christmas Song” while the children gather round the fireplace and the tree opening presents. The Children are tucked into their beds to the songs of “Christmas Children” while mom and dad return downstairs. With a nod to “The Polar Express” the children awake and sing “When Christmas Comes to Town” as they look for Santa with their flashlights.
After the children nestle into their beds again, the audience’s attention in redirected to a father downstairs who thinks that he may have heard old St. Nick creeping around outside the house. Singer Randy Jeter delivers a wonderful performance in “Zat You Santa Claus?” accompanied by a jazz band. He heads out of the house to sing his song and encounters a surreal world complete with smoky streetlights and dancers in black hats and fedoras in a performance that blends Big Easy sounds and noir dance moves that resemble Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker.”
After the song the stage is quickly transformed into a Fifth Avenue type street with large department storefronts in the background. “Christmas Dreaming” adds a light-hearted approach and we watch as a man stands in front of the stores and women appear in brightly colored evening gowns loading his arms with boxes of presents.
The transitions are deliberate and entertaining as a barbershop quartet enters the stage singing a “Carol Medley.” As the first act comes to a close, the full cast returns to carol around a large Christmas tree signing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” By the time the curtain falls on the first act, Santa has not yet made his appearance.
As Act II opens to Josh Groban’s “Believe,” Santa and his elves finally make their way down the chimney to the delight of young children in the audience. As the elves sing “Deck the Rooftop,” it looks like a Dr. Seuss Whoville village as elves sing in brightly colored outfits in an elf choir. There’s even an elf marriage, and an elf country singer who sings “Holly Jolly Christmas” on a sled. During the second half of Act II, the performances focus on the inspirational and feature a live Nativity for songs such as, “O Holy Night” and “Good King Joy.” On “Panis Angelicus” the stage is decorated simply with a cross and candles as a violinist accompanies a soprano singer who delivers the song in Latin.
The show ends with its title song, “Joy to the World.” The show is an escape for audiences and focuses on the magical details of a joyous Christmas community. It sparks a sentimental holiday journey that is rich in both sights and sounds.