Shadowbox Live’s holiday gift to Columbus is a new musical about the season’s family-related joys, longings and frustrations.
“Not So Silent Night,” centered around a local radio-station DJ taking calls from listeners on Christmas Eve, continues through Dec. 19, at 503 S. Front St.
“Brainstorming ideas for a new holiday musical this year, we wanted to keep things light. This year, getting people to laugh and forget their problems is more important than ever,” director Julie Klein said.
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The company-created two-act incorporates 17 holiday songs from Mariah Carey, Indigo Girls, the Jonas Brothers, Kenny Loggins, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and other Top-40 musicians.
“The songs offer everything from pop to country and rap... with a lot of familiarity for families, with songs kids might know like ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and ‘Little Drummer Boy,’” Klein said.
JT Walker III plays Joe Crow, a Columbus DJ.
“One thing Joe loves about his job is the ability to connect to people in his community. These Christmas Eve calls touch him personally, and a couple really hit home emotionally,” Walker said.
Working at the radio station in a small booth with a sound board and laptop, Crow cues songs and chats with callers, sometimes getting animated.
“Joe dances along in his chair, mouthing the words and enjoying himself, with a pencil he uses as a little drumstick,” said Walker, who also gets the chance to do lead vocals on “The Spirit of Christmas” and “Celebrate Me Home.”
But Crow’s holiday work isn’t all happy, because he worries whether his wife and kids, on the road in a snowstorm, will make it home safely.
“Joe’s been doing this DJ job for a couple of decades and definitely loves it. The only thing he’d rather be doing for the holidays is being with his family,” Walker said.
Jimmy Mak, Shadowbox Live’s head writer, conceived Joe Crow and the rest of the call-in characters and their stories.
“Julie mentioned how much she likes Sunny 95’s live Christmas morning radio show, and we thought it would be interesting to tell a bunch of stories centering on a disc jockey taking Christmas Eve dedications,” Mak said.
For the score, Klein gave Mak a suggested playlist of holiday favorites.
“The songs and lyrics inspired me. ... I wrote the musical like a jigsaw puzzle, not knowing where all the songs would fall,” Mak said.
Each song caps a vignette about how people celebrate the holidays, from a couple celebrating their first Christmas together to an older gentleman facing his first Christmas without his late wife.
“The musical weaves sentimental and funny slices of life. ... such as Loretta, a mother stressed out preparing for the visit of her son’s family that she doesn’t like,” Mak said.
As each dedication song airs on the radio (actually performed by the troupe’s onstage house band), video montages and choreography help flesh out the lives and settings of the call-in characters.
“To me, the humanness is the thing,” Mak said.
“I hope people will relate to these characters, and say: ‘Oh, that’s me!’ or ‘I recognize that person.’ We all come from different walks of life, but there’s something that unites us that’s pretty special: the Christmas spirit and goodwill we want to have during the season,” he said.
Mak and Klein hope that “Not So Silent Night” will prove as popular and heartwarming as Shadowbox Live’s two previous holiday musicals.
“Scrooge,” a 2011 modern update of the Broadway musical, was revived by popular demand in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. “Cratchit,” a 2017 retelling of “A Christmas Carol” from Bob Cratchit’s perspective, was revived in 2018 and 2019.
“A good holiday musical is one that takes you on a journey. ... with moments that are sentimental, suspenseful, tender and funny,” said choreographer Katy Psenicka, Shadowbox Live’s chief operations officer.
“The script is the roadmap for this ‘Not So Silent Night’ journey,” she said, “with music and dance to further express the journey through heartfelt emotion, and give the audience and performers a shared expression of joy.”
At a glance
Shadowbox Live will present “Not So Silent Night” at 2 p.m. Dec. 4; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 5; 2 p.m. Dec. 11; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 12; 2 p.m. Dec. 18; and 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at 503 S. Front St. Tickets cost $80 to $130 for tables of two, or $160 to $260 for tables of four. (614-416-7625, shadowboxlive.org)
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: 'Not So Silent Night' blends holiday music, emotion into show