There is one Upper Cape and one Lower Cape option for theatergoing to start December, with two very different stories that are both sure to leave audiences smiling on the way out.
In Orleans, the Academy of Performing Arts stages the rarely produced "Once" musical that pulls patrons into an Irish bar with a sweet love story surrounded by musicians and dancers. Falmouth Theatre Guild brings back the holiday favorite of "The Best Christmas Pageant" ever that gives families a new perspective on the Nativity story.
In the Mid-Cape, Cotuit Center for the Arts is producing "Elf, the Musical" but tickets are sold out for the in-person run. Wait until mid-December for live-streaming options.
Read the "Elf, the Musical" review:: Three Cape Cod theater moods this week: Christmas elf, Irish pub or murder on a train?
Written by: Book by Enda Walsh, music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, based on the 2007 film written and directed by John Carney; presented by The Academy of Performing Arts
What it's about: The show opens on a street in modern-day Dublin, where a young musician (John Connelly) is singing for his supper. It’s a scene familiar to all city dwellers: The starving musician stands behind his empty guitar case hoping his music and voice will earn him enough coins for dinner and a Guinness or two at the local pub. Then along comes a young woman (Shannon Davis) who proposes to reward him with a different kind of currency: some music of her own making. She takes him to the neighborhood pub, where Billy the proprietor (Andrew Grignon) lets her use a piano to play lilting Irish tunes, along with a little Mendelssohn.
It’s not hard to predict what happens in this boy-meets-girl-and-music story: They fall in love. The two leads are skilled musicians and vocalists, but more than that, they create a romantic chemistry that rings unusually true. This is a modern love story, though, with complications like exes and different cultures, so don’t expect a fairy-tale ending.
See it or not? Go for the music and let yourself be carried away. There is a soothing feel to this piece that is a relief from the stress-filled reality surrounding us. From the sweet love story, to the flowing Irish tunes, to the light hues of the set, it is a gentle ride into Irish culture.
Highlight of the show: This show is literally filled with music. It begins with the pre-show warm-up, during which a troupe of singers and dancers performs sweet Irish tunes plus “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” as a nod to the season. Then they engage the audience in a foot-stomping, hand-clapping number that embodies all the unfettered joy often associated with the Irish culture. Thanks to a large company of musicians in the background, the music continues as a backdrop to the love story. Some numbers are filled with the plaintive strains of violins, others filled with fun and dance. And some numbers have a dreamy tone that brings to mind vintage rock from groups like The Moody Blues.
Fun fact: The show was originally developed here in Massachusetts, at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, in April 2011. Then it was performed Off-Broadway at the New York Theater Workshop in December of that year, before transferring to Broadway in 2012. The production received 11 Tony Award nominations, winning eight, including Best Musical and Best Book.
Worth noting: Throughout, dance numbers add a sense of vitality to the Orleans production, but one number stands out. Three young performers from the Kanaley School of Irish Dance in Hyannis — Violet Roche, Priscilla Labranche and Colleen Mahoney on opening night — were particularly sparkling as they performed a jig in bright-colored, sequined costumes.
One more thing: Some scenes are informal skits perfectly suited to the intimate, arena-style theater at the Academy Playhouse. Director John F. Kennedy deftly weaves these scenes into the whole fabric of the production, creating the perfect blend of music and drama (with the occasional pun thrown in for comic relief).
If you go: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 19 at the Academy Playhouse, 120 Main St., Orleans; $30 adults, $20 under age 15; 508-202-1952, www.academyplayhouse.org. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours is required for entrance to the theater.
Review: "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever"
Written by: Barbara Robinson, presented by Falmouth Theatre Guild
What it’s about: A typical yearly church Christmas pageant is turned upside down when the town’s problem children — the Herdmans — force themselves into main roles in the play. They scare the other kids away from their own roles, and residents fear the final result will be the worth production ever.
See it or not? See it. The show — an hour long with no intermission — features a great cast of child actors and gets us in the mood for the holiday season. It also helps us all realize not everything is as it seems and that there’s a kid still in every one of us!
Highlight of the show: There are several great young actors in this play, with Ash Bossi as Imogene Herdman and Caroline Sullivan as Gladys Herdman standing out for their endearing and humorous performances.
Fun fact: The cast is a family affair, with performances by mother and daughter team Genoa and Eowyn Langnickel; mother and daughter Judy and Caroline Sullivan; brother and sister PJ and Dawn Berube; mother and daughter Katie and Sylvie Parsons; and father, son and daughter Toby, Cora and Bobby Goers
Worth noting: With the company’s last production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in 2017, theater officials felt 2021 was a perfect time to bring it back as a show about “faith, hope, and belief in better times ahead.”
One more thing: Director Sonia Schonning says it’s been amazing to see the young actors, ages 5-15 — many doing their first live theater production — gel from the first day. Schonning says they supported each other throughout the rehearsals, a bond that comes through in the show.
If you go: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 12 at Highfield Theatre, 58 Highfield Drive, Falmouth. Tickets: $18, $15 for seniors, $13 for under age 18; www.FalmouthTheatreGuild.org.
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod theater: An Irish musical romance, a holiday family favorite