BWW Review: Servant Stage Brings JOY TO THE WORLD at The Trust
Perhaps you were not fortunate enough to know American television in the 1960's and 1970's. Perhaps you never experienced Ed Sullivan, or THE Glen Campbell GOODTIME HOUR, or THE SONNY AND CHER COMEDY HOUR, or THE Dean Martin SHOW, or, for the younger set, THE DONNY AND Marie Osmond SHOW. These were what we knew as variety shows, on which people would - gasp - show up and do performances, mainly singing their recent hits. The highlight of each year was the Christmas show, when different people would show up in beautiful costumes and, surprise, sing Christmas music. These shows were not story-line plays. They were not hour-long choral concerts. Some of the songs were secular; others were religious. In that era, people didn't object to religious Christmas carols being done en masse on network television.
If you appreciate the appeal of the old-fashioned Christmas special, then Servant Stage's JOY TO THE WORLD: A SERVANT STAGE CHRISTMAS is exactly what you need. It's an hour-long (with no commercial interruptions!) revue of most of the best seasonal music, both secular and religious. With everything from a WHITE CHRISTMAS segment to a lyrical and tasteful "reason for the season" reminder, with a rousing singalong on the way, it's a live Christmas show that's exactly what televised Christmas shows used to be. If you never saw a Christmas variety show back in the day, go. If you did, and you loved them, then also go.
It's at THE TRUST in Lancaster through December 21, with ample parking in the area, so you have no excuse for not going. Most particularly, you have no excuse not to see Brandon Cameron and Matthew Wilhelm sing and dance to "Happy Holiday" from WHITE CHRISTMAS (who says "Happy Holidays" is an unfair greeting, when they know this song?), or Sarah Poague and Laura Zaloom do a marvelous "Sisters" from the same movie? If Ric Zimmerman's never played Bob Wallace from WHITE CHRISTMAS, it's a loss to us all; his duet of "Count Your Blessings" with Julie Stone demands that privilege. And then there's the non-singing cameo by Oliver Zimmerman, who is the real star of the WHITE CHRISTMAS segment.
There are plenty of traditional carols: "What Child is This," "Angels We Have Heard On High," "Carol of the Bells," and a splendid "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." The women's trio in "Carol of the Bells" is one of the best arrangements in some time, beautifully performed, and truly bell-like in sound.
The men's trio is equally strong on "Mary Did You Know," and the entire ensemble, though it performs together through various songs and costume changes, is at its best, as it should be, on a nicely arranged "O Holy Night."
Special kudos to pianist Jay Hoerr, who both sings at various times in the show (most notably in "Angels We Have Heard On High") and delivers a lovely piano solo of "O Come, O Come Emannuel."
Artistic Director Wally Calderon has made sure that this show's begun and kept looking a lot like Christmas, in no small part thanks to Ric Zimmerman's work with costumes but also thanks to some fine musical arrangements and a particularly talented cast.
Servant Stage is a faith-based theatrical company, but not a "preachy" one, specializing primarily in a ministry of family friendly but intelligent theatre and musical revues particularly reaching the less physically able (kudos for their nursing home performances) and the less financially endowed. It's remarkable that most of their talent is or has been professional, and they're a needed artistic asset to the Central Pennsylvania community. This writer is not inserting this as a sales pitch, but as a statement of absolute pleasure; quality professional shows are hard to come by affordably, especially if you want to take your entire family, and can be difficult to reach for the physically challenged. We are fortunate to have a theatrical company in the area dedicated to these projects.
JOY TO THE WORLD is at The Trust through the 21st; visit servantstagecompany.com or their Facebook page for information. Tickets are pay-what-you-will or what you can, as part of their commendable outreach work.