Holidays at the 'hills: That's Entertainment

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Holidays at the ‘hills

A brand new all-musical celebration of the season

Conceived by Russell Garrett and Jim Rice; Director/Choreographer, Russell Garrett; Vocal & Orchestral Arrangements, Jim Rice; Musical Director, Fred Frabotta; Set Designer, Erik Diaz; Costume Designer, Kurt Hultgren; Lighting Designer, Chris Fournier; Sound Designer, Ed Thurber; Prop Designer, David Allen Prescott; Stage Manager, Steven Espach

CAST (in alphabetical order): Trish Aponte, Adam Estes, Russell Garrett, Andrew Giordano, Rebekah Jacobs, Merrill Peiffer, Rebekah Turner, Kent Zimmerman

Musicians: Fred Frabotta, Musical Director/Keyboard; Zach Chadwick, Reeds; Pieter Sturyck, Percussion; Kevin Grudecki, Guitar; Marliese Ballin, Bass

Performances through December 28 at Foothills Theatre Company

Box Office 508-754-4018 or www.foothillstheatre.com

Artistic Director Russell Garrett and Musical Arranger/Worcester native Jim Rice have collaborated to present a seasonal entertainment to the patrons of the Foothills Theatre Company sans ghosts, Zuzu's petals, or morals of the story. In their stead, an ensemble of eight very talented young men and women sing, dance, and smile their hearts out in a world premiere musical revue of all things winter, Christmas, and New Year's Eve.

With temperatures hovering around 30 degrees and the first light snow covering the ground outside, the audience drifted in, many wearing brightly colored holiday sweaters decorated with reindeer, ornaments, and snowflakes, creating a festive atmosphere in the somewhat chilly auditorium. Things warm up considerably when the cast, positioned on a central staircase flanked by faux gift boxes, opens with a medley of familiar songs and energetic pair dancing. They are a most appealing octet, equally adept vocally and tripping the light fantastic to Garrett's varied choreography. All but two of the performers have been on the boards here before, and newcomers Adam Estes and Kent Zimmerman are worthy and welcome additions to the Foothills company. Estes' dancing is both light and fantastic, while Zimmerman's vocals range from sweet and sonorous to earthy and raucous, but both men cover all the bases.

While there is minimal dialogue in Holidays at the ‘hills, there is a loose structure of a series of vignettes, the most developed being an office Christmas party and a 1960's style TV dance show. In the former, the actors take on stereotypical roles - among them, Andrew Giordano as the office Lothario, Estes as the token gay male, and Rebekah Turner as the wallflower-turned-hot mama. Merrill Peiffer belts it out as the frustrated single woman who asks that "Santa Bring Me a Man" for Christmas in the first of her several impressive solo turns, ably backed by three of the men dancing disco style while she and two other women roll around the stage on office chairs. The "Jambaroo" segment evokes the sensibility of the sixties (and the Foothills production of Beehive) as the women don big hairdos and massive petticoats under the flared skirts of their colorful print or plaid dresses, the men sport skinny neckties, and they all show off their retro dance skills doing the twist, the pony, and the monkey in a synchronized group.

Estes, Jacobs, and Peiffer are adorable as little children in flannel feet-pajamas gathered to hear "A Visit from St. Nicholas," but they steal their daddy's spotlight when Estes recites "I've Been a Bad Little Boy" and Jacobs struts around à la Shirley Temple in "I Wanna Hippopotamus for Christmas." Garrett, Estes, and Giordano have the audience eating out of their hands when they stroll out costumed as woeful giant slices of fruitcake bemoaning their unpopularity. However, they are able to find one woman in the audience who willingly receives a wrapped confection from them and pledges not to regift it or use it as a doorstop!

A lively and lengthy medley of wonderful winter and snow songs kicks off the second half of the show. All are draped in winter attire, and the men roll the women around the stage on benches that emulate sleighs. It has the memorable feeling of the old Christmas television specials featuring Andy Williams and the Osmond Family - a little syrupy, but pleasant and warm, nonetheless. The tone changes substantially when the entire chorus harmonizes "The Hanukkah Song," Adam Sandler's ridiculous tribute to celebrity Jews, throwing in a couple of steps of hora dancing for good measure.

Any residual chill in the theatre is melted in the sequence of Santa "torch" songs as the women heat things up visually and vocally. Jacobs is an icy hot temptress in a cobalt blue sheath with a long slit up the front as she pouts her way through "Santa Baby," followed by Trish Aponte in a very short, black sequined outfit that draws attention to her legs and her fishnet stockings. Their backup boys look sharp in crisp red shirts, white neckties, and black slacks, whether they are performing stylized Fosse movements or vigorous, crowd-pleasing tap combinations.

Tuxedo-clad Giordano kicks off the closing segment crooning Frank Loesser's standard "What Are You Doing New Years Eve?" and is joined by the rest of the cast in spiffy formal wear, the colors of the women's sequined dresses matching the men's vests. Like the end of a fireworks display, it is designer Kurt Hultgren's grand finale, the coup de grace of the parade of costumes throughout the show. The ensemble gathers chorale-style on the staircase for a flurry of carols, including an indescribably delicious version of "O Holy Night" featuring Aponte and Estes. And just like that, 50+ songs later, they call it a night.

Holidays at the ‘hills is a major undertaking and Garrett acquits himself admirably on all scores. It is a fun, lively, entertaining piece, well-paced, and with good performances from the entire ensemble, Garrett included. I imagine that the regular Foothills patrons get a kick out of seeing what their Artistic Director can do when he steps out from the wings. Although they remain offstage, Musical Director Fred Frabotta and his four musicians do yeoman's work in this evening of non-stop music, augmented by Jim Rice's arrangements and Ed Thurber's reliable sound design. Erik Diaz's set is simple, but effective, including the giant snowflakes that dot the igloo-like proscenium arch, and Chris Fournier's lighting design is appropriate for all of the different musical moods.

Ultimately, this show is about enjoying the holiday season and establishing a new tradition at the Foothills Theatre. Only time will tell if Holidays at the ‘hills will become a tradition, but putting together an ensemble like this one seems to assure safe sledding.

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Nancy Grossman From producing and starring in family holiday pageants as a child, to avid member of Broadway Across America and Show of the Month Club, Nancy has cultivated her love of the art and respect for the craft of theatre. She fulfilled a dream when she became an adult-onset tap dancer in the early 90's ("Gotta dance!"); she fulfills another by providing reviews for BroadwayWorld.com and evolving as a freelance writer. Nancy is an alumna of Syracuse University and a retired Probation Officer-in-Charge in the Massachusetts Trial Court system.


 
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