Arvada Center Provides World Premiere of Christmas Season Musical

home-logoTalented cast and excellent choreography highlight “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 19, 2016

Based on the assumption that “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” a creative team has been working for nearly a year to bring “I’ll be Home for Christmas” to the stage at Arvada Center. This is the first time the Center has provided a world premiere of an original production. Book is by Kenn McLaughlin, with lyrics and original music by David Nehls. Some of the music includes familiar Christmas tunes – arranged to provide opportunity for excellent dancing. Gavin Mayer directed the show with Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck providing the choreography.

I'll Be Home for Christmas - Arvada Center 2016 - Pictured clockwise from top: Noah Racey (Dana Bright), Megan Van De Hey (Louise Bright), Jake Mendes (Simon Bright) and Kim McClay (Maggie Bright). Photo: M. Gale Photography 2016
I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Arvada Center 2016 – Pictured clockwise from top: Noah Racey (Dana Bright), Megan Van De Hey (Louise Bright), Jake Mendes (Simon Bright) and Kim McClay (Maggie Bright). Photo: M. Gale Photography 2016

Premise is a successful TV entertainment family ready to tape their annual live Christmas Show. They have enjoyed success for many years appearing the “model American family.” The parents, Louise and Dana Bright, have been married for about 25 years, and feature their son and daughter in their family shows. The Arvada musical takes place in the television studio where the Bright Family Show is ready to be televised. This year’s version of their Christmas Show is to feature the entire family, a fictional next-door neighbor who is to provide comedy relief, and a popular Country Western star to give the show a little variety.

Problem is that the parents are questioning if they want to continue the popular wholesome family program. Their children aren’t happy being involved, and maybe it is time for the parents to move on with their lives. The show takes place in the 1960s when the nation was emerging from the idea that the ideal model American family might not be a reality. There are protests the Vietnam War. The fantasy the family has been presenting for so many years may have outlived its believability.

Megan Van De Hey and Noah Racey portray the parents. Van De Hey is clever as the on-camera smiler who can drop the façade when the spotlight fades. Racey is very good as a father who empathizes with the challenges the children are facing. He has great tap-dancing skills. The Brights have trained their children in the entertainment world, sometimes against the children’s desires.

I'll Be Home for Christmas 2016, Credit P. Switzer Photography - Jake Mendes (Simon Bright)
I’ll Be Home for Christmas 2016, Credit P. Switzer Photography – Jake Mendes (Simon Bright)

Kim McClay plays the daughter, Maggie, who is not happy in the supposedly-cheerful family. She wants to choose what she wears, where she goes, etc. She is even protesting the Vietnam War. She is a very good dancer and singer. Maggie’s brother, Simon, has served in Vietnam, and has returned to the states a changed man. His parents want this year’s Christmas show to revolve around their son’s return home — showcasing the medal he won in combat. Simon wants to be left alone. Jake Mendes is especially good as Simon. His talents are underused. His “I’ll be Home for Christmas” is particularly rewarding

The cast is large and includes terrifically-talented performers. Supporting roles are headed by Darrius Jordan Lee as Sandy Carpenter, an orphan who is now a young adult. The Bright family have been his idols, as he watched their show faithfully while growing up. His desire is to be just like The Simon Bright he has admired forever. Andrew John Diessner is impressive as Len Ramble, the Country Western singer featured in the special. Sharon Kay White, a longtime favorite of Arvada audiences, turns up as the Bright’s neighbor, Carol Marie. Sheryl McCallum is new to Arvada Center and is effective as the television studio director.

The music is pleasant. It is the amazing dancing that moves the show along. Kitty Skillman Helsabeck’s show-stopping choreography is first rate. The First Night audience gave the performers an enthusiastic standing ovation. The production evidently touched many as a feel-good beginning to the Holiday Season

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
Where: Arvada Center. For the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: To December 23, 2016
Box Office 720/898-7200
Website:  www.arvadacenter.org

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