Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Stardust Christmas Commotion at Harlequin

Amy Shephard, Leah Scofield, Bruce Haasl, Maggie Lofquist
Harlequin Production’s Stardust series is well known to South Sound theatergoers. There have been 19 performances in the series over 21 seasons. Discounting two shows in the series that were revivals, that’s still enough for regulars to know what to expect: pure holiday schmaltz and great music. The writing is thin and serves primarily as setup for songs, with highly unlikely conflict resolutions designed to tug at the heartstrings in the manner of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life.
Christian Doyle, Amy Shephard, Mark Alford, Bruce Haasl, Leah Scofield

Edsonya Charles, Maggie Lofquist

The first 17 episodes were set during World War II and featured great swing-era music. All but two of them were set in the Stardust Club in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Last year’s The Stardust Christmas Blizzard moved ahead to 1957 and the heyday of rock and roll. This year’s The Stardust Christmas Commotion is a sequel to that one, set a week before Christmas 1958 with many of the same characters played by many of the same actors.
Maggie Lofquist, Jackson Jones, Mark Alford. All photos taken from Harlequin Productions Facebook page.

Louis (Christian Doyle) has been engaged to club manager Joy (Maggie Lofquist) for years. He has an endless string of excuses for putting off the wedding, and she’s afraid he doesn’t want to ever get married. Ricky (Jackson Jones) is a budding juvenile delinquent who helps Baxter (Mark Alford) with deliveries. Enter Zoe Mitchell (Edsonya Charles), a social worker in search of Eric, a runaway foster child, who turns out to be Ricky living under a pseudonym. If she finds him she’s going to turn him over to the state, which will put him in a home that in Eric’s mind amounts to a juvenile prison. Nobody at the Stardust Club wants to see that happen so while Zoe is there they hide him in the way theater folk would naturally think to hide someone in plain sight — costumes and makeup!

Meanwhile the Stardust Club has been contracted to host a wedding party for a bride and groom who are apparently the children of Mafia bosses. There’s a lot of rehearsing to do for the upcoming wedding entertainment —  an easy setup for hit songs of 1958 from bubblegum music like “Lollipop” by Ronald & Ruby to hard rocking songs like “Rockin’ Robin” to some of the tender ballads of the day and, of course, loads of Christmas songs.

It’s the music: nostalgic, hummable and danceable, that makes this show enjoyable, and the cast includes some of the best musical performers in the area. It’s hard to beat Doyle and Bruce Haasl teaming up on early rock hits. They do a wonderful “Volare” and later tem up on the do-wop hit “Come and Go with Me” with Doyle brilliantly taking the lead while Haasl does the bass part with style.

Jones is the surprise hit of the show. Only 17 years old, he’s got the stage chops of a mature and experienced performer. He owns the stage; he sings wonderfully, and he moves with sure rhythm. He also teams up with Alford for a smooth rendition of Don and Phil Everly’s “All I Have to do is Dream.”

Rounding out the cast are Amy Shephard, who dances her heart out and is responsible for the choreography, and newcomer to the South Sound, Leah Scofield whose big voice rocks the house. Plus musical director and band leader Bruce Whitney in the role of Russian expatriate bandleader Nikolai Feyodorov, singing and playing piano, sax and banjo. It seems like every year Whitney adds singing and speaking parts to his usual musical performance, and every year it’s a delightful surprise.
There is some great music in this show, though it leans a little too heavily toward the bubble gum spectrum. I wish there had been more songs from early rock legends like Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, just to name a few. This show could use more raw, high-energy rock. Maybe next year…

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Dec. 31
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151;

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