T'was the Night Before Christmas | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

T'was the Night Before Christmas 

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Growing Stage Children's Theater Company

at the Coronet Playhouse

When you consider that the alternative to children's theater is Saturday-morning cartoons, Nintendo, or a favorite videotape, then a lack of quality doesn't seem so bad. Anything that pulls kids away from a video screen is welcome.

Unfortunately, many of the people who produce children's theater seem to find quality almost contemptible. "It's good enough for kids," their shows seem to say. "They won't notice the difference."

The Growing Stage Children's Theater Company, for example, is doing a new adaptation of Clement Clarence Moore's "A Visit From St. Nicholas." Even their title, T'was the Night Before Christmas, displays a slapdash quality--it should be 'Twas, not T'was.

The adaptation, by Charles Mitchell, is actually kind of clever. Chris (Tamara Jackson) lives in a poor neighborhood where she is taunted by three leather-clad toughs because she still believes in Santa Claus. But she persists in her belief and persuades George (Bill Morison), the local mail carrier, to schlepp the letter she has written to Santa all the way to the north pole.

Meanwhile, Santa (Michael Cimino) has fallen under the sway of an aggressive efficiency expert named Dr. Suede (Christine Dunford), who fires the elves and decides to charge for the gifts Santa delivers. Obviously a member of the "greed is good" school of business, Dr. Suede hypnotizes Santa to make him comply with her plans.

There are a couple of competent dance numbers, choreographed by cast member Marisa Soltis, artistic director of the Mimesis Dance Company of New York. And the songs, composed by Dan Gillogy, the music director at Second City, are hip, raucous, and funny--especially "Yo, Yo, Yo, Listen to the Fat Man."

Pieces of the show have quality, but they are thrown together so haphazardly by director Kent Nichalson that the show has a sloppy, careless look. Granted, he didn't have much money to work with, judging by the makeshift set designed by Ripley Thames (who also did the inadequate lighting). But these shortcomings needn't be fatal. Nichalson had enough to work with; he just didn't make it work very well.

The two kids I went with paid close attention to the show, which lasts less than an hour, and seemed to enjoy themselves. So I guess that means the production is "good enough." But with just a little more ingenuity and effort, the Growing Stage people could have made this production good.


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