THEATER REVIEW by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS
Harlequin Productions’ The Stardust Christmas Fandango is the 22nd show in the series of locally written and produced holiday musicals that has been thrilling audiences for decades. Harlequin co-founder Linda Whitney calls it a Christmas card to Olympia.
The series started in 1994, and Harlequin has done a different variation on the stories of the Stardust Club in Manhattan at Christmas Eve almost every year since, each presenting a lineup of hit songs from the era in which the stories are set, starting with big band swing during World War II, and then in 2013 moving up to the 1950s and ’60s and rock and roll. They are usually light hearted and a little bit silly, with some serious commentary on issues of the day thrown in. But what they’re really all about is the music.
Onward to this year’s presentation. It’s Christmas Eve in the Stardust Club. Performers in the club are rehearsing for their next show, starting with a terrific rendition of “A Rose in Spanish Harlem” sung by Christian Doyle, Bruce Haasl, and Amy Shephard. On the wall behind the bar is a poster advertising an upcoming performance there by the popular duo Frankie and Nash — Mexican singer Francisco Léon (Miguel Pineda) and Choctaw Indian singer Nashoba Grey (Jeff Barehand), who, it turns out, can’t stand each other. They show up fighting with each other after being kicked out of another club. Into this mix comes Hollywood star Amelie Jardin (Christie Oldright) who wants to recruit Frankie for her movie, and she gets the club’s workers and entertainers to read parts in his impromptu audition. Confusion, conflict, romance, a bit of comedy, and a night of great 1960s music ensues.
Since American entertainment has a long history of casting white European actors as Mexicans and Indians, I am pleased to acknowledge that Pineda is Mexican and Barehand is Gila River and Navajo.
This year’s Stardust highlights Latino music with such songs as “Tequila,” “Guantanamera” and two versions of “Spanish Harlem,” plus rock and country hits such as “Tossin’ and Turnin’” and Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces.” Plus, they throw in some Christmas music including “Donde Esta Santa Claus,” “Pancho Claus” and “The First Noel.”
As always, Harlequin musical director Bruce Whitney leads the band in the role of Stardust band leader Nikolai Feyodorov.
Once in a while musical theater audiences are lucky enough to see a performer who not only sings well, whether as soloist or ensemble, but who is so enthusiastic and energetic that she captivates by sheer force of personality. In this show, that performer is Shephard. She had a powerful voice when called upon to belt it out, a thousand-watt smile, and she’s a dancing fool. She is also the choreographer for this show.
Another performer who makes audiences feel happy to be in their seats and who has thrilled audiences for years is Doyle, who plays barkeep Louis McKellan in this show. It is the range of characters he plays that makes him a crowd favorite, and his vocal stylings, which range from tender ballads to folk and rock to a raucous rocker taking the lead on “Hit the Road Jack.”
Haasl stands out on many songs, most notably with his whisper-like falsetto on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with the whole group and Oldright’s gorgeous soprano joining in.
The duo of Oldright and Haasl is fabulous on “I Fall to Pieces,” and Ferguson-Wagstaffe almost has the audience in tears on her beautiful rendition of “Crazy.”
Ashley Chandler also has a strong voice and a compelling stage presence, and Pineda and Barehand are outstanding individually as actors, as singers, and terrific when singing duets.
Christmas is over, but the show goes on, and an evening at the Stardust Club is a great way to finish off the season.
(This review appears courtesy of The Weekly Volcano.)
WHAT Stardust Christmas Fandango
WHEN 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 31
WHERE State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia
HOW MUCH $34, senior/military $31, student/youth #20
LEARN MORE 360.786.0151, Harlequin Productions