Shows CANCELLED! That seems to be the trend for theatrical productions in 2020. The holidays and shows are two things that go perfectly together. People love memories, traditions, treats, and entertainment for the Holidays and for many, that means a special trip with family and friends to the theater. For the performers performing during the Holidays, it is a time to bring joy to the audience and to celebrate with their theater family.
Syracuse Stage and the Syracuse University Department of Drama’s holiday co-production was cast and ready to perform. Unfortunately, their previously announced production of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley was cancelled “due to heightened rehearsal and performance restrictions implemented by the union for professional actors and stage managers (Actors’ Equity Association) in response to the steady increase of Covid-19 cases in Central New York.”
However, it comes as no surprise that Syracuse Stage and Syracuse University Department of Drama found a way to allow their student performers to perform and give the gift of theater to their audience for the Holiday season. Featuring video editing by Brenna Merritt and lighting by David Bowman, the fully digital production of Home For the Holidays was developed to take the place of Miss Bennet under the vision and direction of Ricky Pak. Pak just joined the faculty of Syracuse University Department of Drama and has the theatrical experience of creating original theater works using personal stories and other material. His heartwarming creation of Home For the Holidays, a show filled with familiar Christmas songs, instrumental music, dancing, and beautiful memories brings much joy, laughter, and tears as the audience member watches and hears from those that were supposed to be in “Miss Bennet.” Stories of the Holidays from community members and familiar performers that have stolen the spotlight in past Syracuse Stage productions add a personal touch.
Musical director Brian Cimmet opens the show alone, playing the grand piano on the mainstage of Syracuse Stage with a Christmas tree and other Christmas decorations in the center of the stage on what was supposed to be the set design by Czerton Lim for Miss Bennet. The set, as per usual, is exquisite and detailed. He is at the piano beautifully playing magical and familiar Christmas tunes. I have to say I got emotional within the first couple of minutes of the virtual production as the music was played on that stage with the lonely Christmas tree and decorations, and so on. The Archbold Theater at Syracuse Stage is without a doubt The Christmas Theater to me as I have been going there for the Holidays to see a production since I was in grade school. Now I get to bring my own family to the theater for the Holidays and see my daughter’s face light up to the magic of the Holidays that Syracuse Stage brings with their dynamic casts, mesmerizing stage design, and stellar musical numbers. This production focuses on memories, theater, traditions, talent, and those special performers that are a part of many peoples Holiday traditions. This fully digital production, without a doubt, does not disappoint. The Holiday tradition of enjoying a show produced by Syracuse Stage and the Syracuse University Department of Drama lives on through their featured cast’s stories.
The group of student performers that were meant to be in “Miss Bennet” perform their thoughts and stories over a zoom style production. The familiar faces are a delight to see. The featured cast includes Giuliana Augello, Blake Brewer, August Fegley, Candice Hatakeyama, and Catie Kobland opening the “show” voicing their disappointment regarding their show being cancelled. They debate if they are going back home for the Holidays.
Faculty members and past performers pop in on the Zoom call to offer advice, memories, and understanding. Visitors include the always delightful and animated David Lowenstein offering understanding, memories of the Holidays in NYC and LA along with his family’s tradition of a “Vagabond Thanksgiving and Christmas.” He also performs a fabulous rendition of “The Grinch” featuring different and amusing lyrics. Rufus Bond Jr. joins in to tell stories of his childhood Christmas memories, he tells of doing theater during Christmas and offers wonderful advice to the students that “as an artist you are a gift to a lot of people” especially for the Holidays. Artists are stronger than they think they are is his inspirational advice to the sad students. Cicily Daniels, who delighted audiences last year in Syracuse Stage’s Production of Beauty and the Beast as Mrs. Potts, also comes for a visit to remind the students that “Christmas can happen no matter where you are.” Whitney Tenney Pak joins in to share a beautiful and emotional Holiday memory. Lisa Helmi Johanson, who recently appeared in Syracuse Stage’s production of Amadeus as Mozart’s wife makes a memorable appearance as she discusses memories and asks what defines home. She then performs a beautiful rendition of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”
Throughout the show the students sing together, laugh together, read e-mails from audience members and staff from Syracuse Stage, and many more. Choreographer Joshua Keen makes an entertaining dance break appearance as well. The musical numbers are a delight.
The emotional and happy traditions, along with memories of time at Syracuse Stage, performing, traveling, and much more hooks the audience. The flashback to past productions at Syracuse Stage is truly emotional as we see glimpses of those shows that have been such a gift to the Syracuse Stage audience members, performers, and staff.
Theater at Syracuse Stage is always special. The Holiday show is always the highlight of the season. I have to say that this production continues the tradition of being a highlight of the season. It is not live theater, we aren’t all dressed-up walking into the theater, seeing Syracuse Stage decked out for the Holidays; however, Syracuse Stage has still brought the tradition, showcased the talents of their phenomenal drama students, and brought top-notch performers. Theater makes you think, brings a smile to your face, pulls at your heartstrings, creates memories, and provides an escape. Ricky Pak’s “Home for the Holidays” does everything that theater is supposed to do in this beautiful production of memories, Christmas traditions, and songs. Syracuse Stage continues to be “The Christmas Theater” with this unique digital production.
Running time: Approximately 84 minutes.
Home for the Holidays is available on video on demand through January 3, 2021. To purchase access to this production and to find out more about upcoming productions at Syracuse Stage click here or call the Box office at 315-443-3275. For information on the Syracuse University Department of Drama click here.