BY KEN CHISHOLM
The thunderous applause had barely died out for Dream: A ’50’s Musical this summer when the Highland Arts Theatre announced the wildly popular song and dance extravaganza would have a Christmas themed sequel.
Holiday On Christmas Island arrives the week before Christmas with as much high energy singing and high kicks mixed in its plot of star-crossed lovers as its predecessor and a few surprisingly unsentimental laughs at the holiday’s expense.
Many of the Dream cast returns including Paul Gatchell as the “Obliterating Oberon” (cue the thunder and lightning); Heather Merrill as “Tammy”, Oberon’s true love; and the always spritely Hilary Scott as Oberon’s assistant, “Robyn”; as well as Wesley J. Colford, Rory Andrews, Emily O’Leary, and Leslie MacLean who briefly reprise their roles from Dream before heading off for a tropical adventure.
Just as director and writer Colford took the inspiration and plot for Dream from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Holiday also borrows from the Bard, in particular The Tempest.
This means when Oberon, Tammy, and Robyn’s plane–piloted by surfing guru Freddie (Jordan Crocker)–goes off course in the Bermuda Triangle and crash lands on a secluded island, they are met by, not the hula girls they expected, but menacing, possibly cannibalistic islanders (including a “lurking” Caliban played by Matt Campbell), Oberon’s brother and fellow magician Prospero, bent on revenge of course, his daughter Miri (Gabrielle Smith), and Ariel (Mark Delaney), Prospero’s assistant (who sports a rich Elvis accent that occasionally had me thinking his name was Aaron).
The songs are not strictly confined to the 1950’s as Dream’s score was and includes a lovely nod to the Boardmore’s upcoming Oliver! sweetly sung by Scott. The dance numbers by Cynthia Vokey are as inventive and high energy as Dream and this time includes a grin-inducing tap routine by that human sparkplug, Leslie MacLean. And Barb Stetter’s musical arrangements, including many holiday standards, were textured and layered in some ways that the more straight ahead rock of Dream didn’t have space for.
The cast, from top to Bottom (oh, wait, that was the first play), were engaging, dynamic, and funny with little telling moments of genuine emotion mixed in the farcical romance.
Gatchell made “Oberon” as real person: vain, arrogant, but desperately trying to turn that around. He has a powerful yet emotive voice, perfect comedic timing and dances with confidence. Merrill with less professional experience than Gatchell matched his energy with the strength of her performance; she’s a formidable appealing stage presence (although I would have liked to have heard another big torchy number like she had in Dream).
Much of the opening night audience applauded for Hilary Scott’s entrance as “Robyn” and applauded even more so at her curtain call. All big eyes and bright smiles, Scott always brought the energy and mischief of her Shakespearean prototype to every note and gesture in a fun performance.
Nobody has dance moves like George MacKenzie: they have the quality of being serious and well-performed and self-mocking at the same time. The script let him down a bit, making Prospero a little too serious amid all of the zaniness surrounding him, but nobody has better comedic timing than MacKenzie and he even got to play the uke for one number (but a few solo riffs would have been nice).
Gabrielle Smith and Jordan Crocker made for a cute pair of ingénues and both had great singing voices and perfect dance timing. Smith aced the tough task of playing some very funny lines straight-faced and getting some good laughs.
As the Memphis-accented Ariel, Mark Delaney could get laughs while looking engaged in the serious business of liberating his grass-skirted people. Matt Campbell, besides having a great singing voice and dance moves, actually managed to bring some the anger of Sheakespeare’s Caliban to his performance.
The remaining cast members–including director Colford, tapdancer MacLean, Rory Andrews, Emily O’Leary, MacKenzie Sechi, and Bethany Reid–performed mostly as chorus members with great energy and charisma. Since many of them had prominent roles in Dream, it might have been nice if they all had a laugh line or two to establish a character, but that’s show biz.
Director Colford filled the stage with a beautiful tropical set (helped by set assistant Bradley Murphy) and eye-popping costumes by Diana Furlong–MacKinnon and Hilary Scott, and prop masks created by Tristan and Darren Bartlett. The pace of the play galloped along and the occasional set changes were lightning quick and went lights up on some surprising tableaus. Despite being assured by director Colford before the show, this was their first run through of the entire show (due to a missed dress rehearsal caused by the recent snow storm), and except for a very few flubbed lines, the show has all the professional high quality of Dream. It’s the perfect antidote to the stress of the holiday, the nagging cold and precipitation, and endless stream of sentimental seasonal specials gluck. This Holiday on Christmas Island is a can’t miss Dream production.
Holiday on Christmas Island runs at the Highland Arts Theatre nightly at 8 pm till Sunday, December 18.