A classic Christmas event continues in Coronado. For over 40 years, the Lamb’s Players Theatre has presented new holiday shows as part of an annual tradition, the Lamb’s Festival of Christmas, with this year’s offering being the original musical story Reaching for the Stars.
Set a few days before Christmas Day in “a commuter friendly neighborhood with a northern exposure,” the story features a wise, optimistic man Van (Jim Chovick), who becomes familiar with several people who spend time in a local recording studio. These include the co-owner/singer/musician Trace Morgan (Jimmy Marino), his music and business partner, Christian Lane (Luke Harvey Jacobs), Christian’s sisters Grace (Sarah Busic) and Faith Lane Price (Catie Grady), and their retired widower father Matt (Manny Fernandes). Their tales are told over the course of a few days, and conclude shortly before Christmas Day.
There’s very little music in the first 30 minutes, when the various characters are introduced to the audience. Associate artistic director (and director of educational outreach) Kerry Meads gets in plenty of humor in these scenes with some witty dialogue and funny pop culture references. Outside of some character names that are a bit too obvious, such as Faith, Christian and Melody Singer (Joy Yandell Hricko), Meads’ comedic moments keep the production from feeling too syrupy.
Meads’ script allows the evening to be upbeat, without ignoring the seriousness of life. Issues such as war, death, loneliness and financial woes faced by the characters are openly acknowledged, and feel a natural part of the story. It turns out that even the almost-always happy Van has some pain from his past.
Meads captures how busy the world can be (Mike Buckley’s set, which is full of Christmas-themed decorations, and sound designer Patrick J. Duffy’s audio which uses the sounds of loud trains, fit with the occasionally frantic pace), with the actors often running to different parts of the stage. When people aren’t in a hurry, she presents events in a calming manner with relaxed discussions and holiday songs.
Classic Christmas songs and some original numbers written by musical director Jon Jason Lorenz, Leonard Patton, Marino and others, are sung in an acoustic style by the performers. Lorenz and the other artists present mellow arrangements of melodies such as “Go Tell It (on the Mountain), “Jingle All the Way” and “Noel.” There’s also a little bit of rap performed by singer/actress/violinist (most of the performers play their own instruments) Angela Chatelain Avila.
Both the music and dialogue play to the strengths of the ensemble. Chovick brings plenty of earnest optimism to Van, and performers such as Hricko, Jacobs, Marino, Cashae Monya and Sarah Busic are featured in some hilarious moments, while delivering strong vocal performances at various points in the evening.
Some of the most dramatic and moving moments come courtesy of Fernandes, Grady and Sandy Campbell as Matt’s potential love interest, Eunice Loomis, who take part in conversations and songs that are bittersweet and touching.
After 41 years, the Festival of Christmas still continues to present appealing and entertaining family-friendly narratives. Here’s to at least another 41 years of fresh, festive plays for the Christmas season.