MORRISBURG – “1976. This is the year that Gordie Roberts learned the true meaning of Christmas.”
With those words, Uncle Charlie invites Playhouse audiences to travel back to a time when family Christmas specials, usually featuring performers like Andy Williams, The Osmonds and Perry Como were a staple and welcome part of the television networks’ holiday fare. The Gordie Roberts’ Christmas Special is just such a show, a production that Gordie and his troupe have been performing every December, in pretty much the same fashion, for the last 15 years.
This year, 1976, however, the world is going to change. And if Gordie can’t deal with those changes, Christmas (and the networks) are going to leave him behind.
Playwright and composer Jesse Collins’ Lights, Camera…Christmas! is a nostalgic, music and dance filled homage to those grand old days of television, and to the performers who were once such a familiar part of holiday celebrations in millions of homes.
As this final production of the Upper Canada Playhouse 2014 season takes to the stage, audiences will find themselves swept into the lives of some very special characters. Throughout that journey, there is plenty of laughter, unforeseen twists and turns in the story, exuberant musical numbers, and, perhaps, one or two little tears to wipe away.
Director Collins (assisted by an outstanding crew) has assembled a terrific cast of nine for his production. They are all accomplished singers and dancers (something they demonstrate delightfully throughout the play). Liz Gilroy is the choreographer for the show, with Meredith Zwicker handling the music and arrangements. From soft shoe to rock and roll, from tap to disco, the music and dancing in Lights, Camera…Christmas! are dynamite.
More than this, Christmas is a play with characters that audiences will come to care about. Collins paints them in such a memorable fashion.
Character Gordie (Derek Marshall) is a crooner and a traditionalist. He’s done his Christmas special a certain way for 15 years, and he means to keep on doing things his way. Unfortunately, his finances and television contracts are in a mess. Corporate sponsors are pressuring him hourly. Even his faithful cast is getting restive. And then there is his failure to listen to, sometimes to even notice, his long time girlfriend, Marilyn (Liz Gilroy), who has loved and supported him for years. Despite his loud protestation that “There’s a lot more to Gordie Roberts than just a hit song!” he’s in trouble.
There is nervous Morty (Duff MacDonald) who keeps proclaiming “I was just supposed to be the warm up act, not the manager.” And Rick (Geoffrey Tyler), who is desperate for a chance to finally showcase his dance and vocal skills. There’s Rhonda (Meredith Zwicker) who has embraced the whole disco scene and dancer Denise (Miranda MacDonald), a woman of few words but big smiles. Who will forget Uncle Charlie (Rod Campbell) whose understanding heart makes a difference in the lives of everyone? And there is Zach Council, whose wide-eyed Vince brings the house down with his puppets, magic and reindeer suit. Even Butch, the corporate hatchet man, played with Scrooge like nastiness by Brian Young, while delivering lines like “I don’t like you. I don’t like this show. And I’ll can this hunk of junk! There’s a new sheriff in town!” is a memorable villain.
Will the Gordie Roberts Christmas special survive? Will jive talk, disco Santa and the evil Fairbanks 2000 replace the traditions of Christmas? Will the members of Gordie’s troupe rediscover the joys of Christmas in time? Will this be the year that Gordie Roberts really does learn the true meaning of Christmas?
Lights, Camera…Christmas! is a magical journey of song, dance and story. Go and warm your heart.
Lights, Camera…Christmas! runs at Upper Canada Playhouse until December 14. Contact the theatre at 1-613-543-3713 for information and tickets.