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Two shows on Cape stages this weekend are aimed squarely at the holiday audience, while another is a feel-good musical and virtual event tackles a thought-provoking topic.
Both holiday stories are classics: Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" told in a tour de force one-man performance; and a family event with many children on stage for Barbara Robinson's "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."
We've got a review of those as well as the Dublin-set "Once" musical romance in Orleans. The weekend's final show is virtual and serious: plays by local writers to spark a discussion of racial reckoning.
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 Dec. 17 and 19 for live-streaming options.
Three short plays on racial reckoning
Wellfleet Preservation Hall will host a free virtual production of three short plays by Wellfleet playwrights Candace Perry and John Dennis Anderson at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Growing up white in the South, both playwrights have stories to tell about racial injustice, white supremacy and the challenges of racial reckoning. A live discussion will follow the presentation of the three plays, and viewers will be invited to participate. The discussion’s respondent and moderator will be Charles Everett Pace, a scholar and historical interpreter who has portrayed such historical figures as Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes and Malcolm X. Information: https://wellfleetpreservationhall.org
Review: “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: A Solo Performance by Neil McGarry”
Adapted from: Dickens' novel, directed by Ross MacDonald, and hosted by the Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre
What it’s about: Professional actor McGarry comes home to Cape Cod with his one-man retelling of the beloved Christmas story about the redemption of miser Ebenezer Scrooge after he is visited by four ghosts and shown the error of his ways.
See it or not? McGarry commands the stage in an extraordinary feat of acting, memorization and nerve for a more than two-hour, two-act production that brings warmth and humor — yes, humor — to the tale of a miserable man learning lessons of caring for your fellow man and keeping Christmas in your heart. McGarry’s performance is on a largely bare stage, inventively and effectively using just a trunk, a chair and a few props – including a long white sash and sonorous bells – to create the classic scenes and develop a rapport with the audience.
Highlight of the show: McGarry is on his own for this tour de force, but you might swear there are other people on stage as he convincingly creates conversations, hugs and even dancing between multiple characters. His exuberant delivery of Fezziwig’s party when Scrooge was a young man will make you smile.
Fun fact: McGarry is a Barnstable High graduate who was founding artistic director for South Shore-based Bay Colony Shakespeare Company before moving to Europe with his family several years ago. The West Harwich stop is part of a short return New England tour of his unique show.
Worth noting: A familiarity with the details of Scrooge’s story would be an asset for patrons as McGarry’s rapid-fire monologue both as narrator and every character sweeps through the story’s events. This show was created using Dickens’ words and while there are highlights from so many adaptations — “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population”; “Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”; “There's more of gravy than of grave about you” etc. — McGarry’s version also includes infrequently used passages you may have long forgotten from the novel.
One more thing: Having just one man on stage for this story makes you realize how much of most Scrooge characterizations is watching and reacting to the events the ghosts of other Christmases makes him watch. While Scrooge is given ample stage time here in the early scenes and finale, much of the rest focuses on a colorful round of other characters and a kaleidoscope of events more than many adaptations.
If you go: 7 p.m. Dec. 11 and 12 at Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre, 105 Division St., West Harwich; tickets: $25; $20 for seniors; $15 for under age 21. Reservations: 508-432-2002 or www.capecodtheatrecompany.org. Limited capacity with socially distant seating. Masking is required.
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 worst 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.
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.
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: On stage at Cape Cod theaters: Holiday, musical love stories