note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Every year, I look forward to the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s annual Christmas spectacular in the Robinson Theatre, Waltham. because it combines local and professional talent in a huge, well-rounded variety show that rivals Boston big house productions. The show appeared Dec. 3-11.
Owner Robert Eagle spares no expense, yet keeps that local flavor by combining the likes of beautiful Broadway star, Sarah Pfisterer, and Broadwy guest vocalist, Rick Hilsabeck, with fresh-faced teenaged tappers simulating Rockettes’ routines and 100 children singing their hearts out as Santa’s helpers and sleepy children.
A large choir, dressed in celebratory robes, carrying flickering tapers, ushers in the holiday, singing traditional Christmas carols, holiday and winter favorites, their voices ringing to the rafters. Music Conductor Jeffrey Leonard and choreographer Susan M. Chebookjian make every note, every step, a joy. Eagle has such a successful formula, he doesn’t change it. Many of the elegant, velvet-and-taffeta flocked costumes, robes, and rich backdrops and scrims are the same, greeting theatergoers like familiar old friends. So are many of the songs, scenes and routines. A few numbers have been tweaked, but for the most part remain in tact.
One of the biggest favorites occurs in the first act. It’s an old-fashioned, Victorian Christmas memory, where strollers sing traditional carols in Boston Public Garden. The scene is enhanced by renowned artist Robert Moody’s photographic images of Boston sites and landmarks, edged in snow, beamed from a large background screen, including the capitol, Mother Duck and her ducklings, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the North End, and more.
More locally, the group visits Yolanda’s of Waltham in a last-minute shopping frenzy, in “Twelve Days to Christmas,” while Sarah Pfisterer and Rick Hilsabeck rejoice in “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.
The ensemble musically travels from Christmas in a less distinct New York, to Santa’s Workshop, where 14 teen-aged Santas in training are busily tapping out tunes on toy xylophones, and Raggedy Anns and Andys are dancing and flopping around.
By special permission, the ensemble has secured the rights to perform some of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes’ routines, including their reindeer-sleigh number, little Clara the ballerina (Brianna Maguire) and the cuddly teddy bears’ “Nutcracker” stint, and the famous, syncopated, precise March of the Wooden Soldiers, complete with the same snappy red-and-white costumes, and their domino-style collapse.
Unfortunately, this group of 23 dancers, who performed each intricate formation flawlessly, lost its balance, with the line breaking and falling too fast initially. However, they recouped, with a fine finish.
Always a joy is the harmonious barbershop quartet, singing a few favorites: Jean-Alfred Chavier, Sean Harrington, Herb Philpott and Gary Vincent, and ventriloquist Buddy Bergeron, with Kermit the Frog, singing a sweet number that leads to all children in the audience invited on stage, for a sing-along. Act II boasts formally-dressed carolers, in velvet-flocked taffeta dresses and tuxedos, ushering in the most awesome part of the 2-1/2-hour musical show - The Nativity. Pfisterer’s hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Mary’s Boy Child” allows her clear soprano to shine. Narrator R. Glen Michell’s deep, resonant voice reverentially intones the tale of the Nativity, as shepherds tend their flock and winged angels hover above the creche, the heavenly host rejoicing. Opaque scrims and artistic curtained backgrounds recreate deserts, ancient cities, the barn, and the brilliant star of wonder, leading the extravagantly dressed kings/wise men/magi, Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Gaspar of India, and lowly shepherds to Bethlehem. As the ensemble sings, “O Holy Night,” the scene fades to dark. A hush envelops the audience, grasping the holiday’s true meaning - peace on earth, good will to men.