MORRISBURG – Holly is a sad small town.
It’s the 1950s and there are few businesses left in the village: families are slowly moving away. Why, even the Holly train station is expected to close.
It would take a miracle to bring joy back to hearts in Holly.
Fortunately, The Christmas Express, now on stage at Upper Canada Playhouse until December 21, makes just such a miracle possible.
Pat Cook’s play is a touching look at a small town and some of its citizens. Audiences get to meet and care for these people, who can hardly be blamed for not feeling much hope as the Christmas season approaches.
Chief among those who have lost any Christmas spirit is Hilda (Linda Goranson) the Holly station manager, who bluntly says: “You’re not going anywhere, you’re not coming from anywhere, you’re not expecting anyone. The whole town is dying.”
Jerry (Tom Mifflin) and his wife of just one month, Donna Fay (Stephanie Folkins), are fighting: in fact, she’s about to leave him. Milton the Mailman (Zach Counsil) has fewer and fewer letters to deliver, and it doesn’t help his spirits to see Hilda routinely dump his packages directly into the trash. Myrna the choir director (Stephanie Pitsiladis), despite her best exuberant efforts, is burdened with a choir desperately in need of a truly major “tune-up”.
Even Penelope (Jess Vandenberg) the Holly reporter, is going to be hard pressed to find anything cheerful to put into the little town paper – which may also fold.
Finally, the suspicious arrival of a buttoned down, officious stranger (Duff MacDonald) “here to make a few notes about the station and its assets” as he says, just makes it all worse.
Despite the best efforts of the often hilarious Satch, (Sweeney MacArthur) the station assistant, to instill a bit of seasonal laughter into the proceedings, the chances of a merry Christmas in Holly look pretty slim.
Then a mysterious, unassuming man, who calls himself Leo (Daniel Michael Karpenchuk), unexpectedly alights in Holly – on a train that absolutely no one saw or heard arriving.
Remarkable, even magical, things begin to happen around this Leo.
Watches run on time. Decorations appear. Trees light up. Children smile. Choirs sing “Silent Night” in key. Santa suits can transform lives. A worried young girl (Jamie Wilson) will perhaps find a missing father.
Many hearts are touched in ways that no one, including the audience, ever expected.
“You’d be surprized at what a little imagination can do, and a little hope,” Leo says. “Everyone needs hope.”
The Christmas Express, directed by Donnie Bowes, is a lively, fun-filled production which both children and adults will enjoy.
The engaging (and energetic) cast of 10 sings, dances and succeeds in creating some very memorable characters as they bring the town of Holly to life.
There is plenty of ‘giggly’ comedy in this show. (Satch’s introduction of “Three fat ducks” into an already ragged chorus of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ had the audience roaring with laughter.)
And if, as is often true in many tales of Christmas, there might be a tear or two along the way, doesn’t that just make the joy so much greater in the end?
Pat Cook’s The Christmas Express now playing at Upper Canada Playhouse until December 21, is a fun-filled, wonderful play for the season and for the whole family. Catch it.