THE ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS SHOW (abridged)

ATLANTIC BEACH EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE REVIEW

It’s Christmas time – and plays about the season can be found everywhere. Want to see something different? ABET is staging the Jacksonville premier of “The Ultimate Christmas Show,” a zany comedy by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor. Production dates are December 1 – 17, 2017. All Performances are at the Adele Grange Center at 716 Ocean Boulevard. Call (904) 249-7177 or visit abettheatre.com for reservations.

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The show takes place in the recreation room of Saint Everybody’s Non-Denominational Universalist Church. The setting includes a fireplace, a lovely tree, and a pile of wrapped presents.

Three young volunteers have been waiting to assist with presenting the annual Multicultural Interfaith Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant. But there’s a problem: a savage storm is raging outside and all the performers are stuck at the airport. What to do? Cancel the show, and return the ticket money to the audience members? No, not an option!!!.

The trio will do the show by themselves, and they will use their own names. They surprise and delight the audience with their deadpan sincerity and energetic commitment to stage fun.

Actress Stephanie Santiago is from St. Augustine and was last seen on ABET’s stage as Ruth in “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the Moon Marigolds.” She studied acting In New York at the Tish School of the Arts, and has a degree from Florida State University.

Actors Austin Kelley and Kyle Reeves are making their community theatre debuts. Both appeared in the University of North Florida’s productions of “The Winter’s Tale” and “Measure for Measure” while students there. Jason Collins directed and his gift for extracting natural performances from his actors delivers a show filled with hilarious theatrical humor. The full house audience took to this comedy heartily and laughed uproariously throughout.

What’s it all about? The three actors make a marvelous team as they repeatedly change clothing during the twenty-one scenes of the production. They inclusively twist traditions every which way, during scenes that include “Swingle Sisters Jingle Singers,” ”Muslim-America Ramadancers” and “Cirque du Sleigh.”

In the first act, they sing the “Twelve Days of Christmas” and make it an audience participation version by adding requested items (motorcycles, overseas trips, gas stoves). They remarkably remembered all the added items as they sang their way through the many verses.

Nothing is sacred. “White Christmas” is sung by Confederate Carolers in KKK robes. Mr. Kelley appears in a modern version of gay apparel in one scene. Even our current president gets mentioned. And ever wonder why Santa is so happy and jolly? Hmmm – he knows where all the naughty girls are.

A gift exchange takes place at the end of the first act, with Director Collins acting as Master of Ceremonies. Bring a wrapped inexpensive ($5 to $10) funny, weird, or unusual gift with you if you want to participate.

A Christmas smile from ABETs founder Carson Merry

During the second act, they recreate the original Christmas Story with animals, shepherds, and Magi, while the Holy Family is portrayed by audience volunteers.

The Production Team included Celia Frank (Managing Artistic Director), Bryan Frank (Technical Director), Jason Collins (Director), Stephanie Drog (Stage Manager), Betsy Totten Darnell (Light & Sound Operator), Bryan Frank (Light and Sound Tech), and Amy Tillotson (Costume Design).

If you like to laugh, this is the show for you. The humor just seemed to roll off the stage in waves of laughter and you could not ask for a more perfectly cast threesome. A note of caution: traditionalists may find it too irreverent to fully appreciate the humor.

ABET’s next scheduled production is “The Clean House” (Jan 19 – Feb 4, 2018), a comedy by Sarah Ruhl.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.

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