"They were more than excited," reports Antoun, who claims to have heard hardly a peep of protest even as he changed some of the songs into duets or trios or futzed with gender pronouns as the show's needs demanded. "I e-mailed each songwriter first and said, 'I'm really interested in doing this song of yours--however, I want to do it as a trio,' just so there was no misunderstanding. And every one of them said, 'I can't wait to see what you do with it."
Centastage, now in its 11th season, has never been a particularly musically inclined outfit. What the company does is focus on local writers, producing plays like Bill Lattanzi's Dancing Downstream and La Vita Claire and annually presenting Women On Top, a festival of plays by Boston area women. This year, Antoun figured he'd expand that sort of commitment to songwriters and singers; all told, 11 tunesmiths will be represented--not including Antoun himself, who wrote an opening ditty about turning off cell phones and signing the mailing list. The songs are presented by local singers Melinda Stanford, Gregory Bouchard, and Jon Blackstone, plus some special guests. If all goes well, Boston Sings Boston will be a gift to the city's cabaret fans while simultaneously expanding Centastage's audience base. According to Antoun, "We did a whole different kind of marketing for this show."
And, with any luck, Boston Sings Boston will keep singing for a long time to come. "The place where we're doing the show is willing to make it a regular thing, should it catch on--which is a great thing," Antoun says. "We're having a ball. It's so much fun doing this! The normal stress of directing a play is not there." Which, for Joe Antoun, may be the greatest Christmas gift of all.
AKRON SINGS VEGAS
This holiday season will be a long one at the Carousel Theater in Akron--it began on November 7 and won't end until January 13. Those are the dates for Razzle Dazzle 2001, an annual musical revue designed this year to bring the glamour and glitz of Las Vegas to Ohio. If this seems like a difficult task, note that Carousel's powers-that-be gave themselves a lot of time to work on it.
"We get, like, halfway through the year before deciding what we want to do," explains Jennifer Shankleton of the Carousel. "We thought this year that it needed to be something fun and upbeat, something to offer a little escape from reality...and we thought Las Vegas was the way to go." The company is importing Vegas through a variety of means: tons of songs, pyrotechnics, and a multitude of shimmering sets and costumes, including fancy wooden getups that transform chorus girls into walking roulette wheels. "It's absolutely beautiful, the best stuff we've ever had for a Christmas show," says Shankleton. "The backdrops are outlined in lights. It's just beautiful."
Also beautiful is Billy Hufsey, a favorite son of Ohio who found his fame on Fame and Days of Our Lives. Hufsey headlines Razzle-Dazzle, singing decades worth of Vegas standards; he's joined by juggler Nino Frediani and ventriloquist Sammy King (accompanied as always by his parrot, Francisco), who appeared on the very last Ed Sullivan Show. That's quite a Vegas lineup, folks--even if it is in Akron.
JINGLE ALL OVER THE PLACE
"Christmas bells are ringing...somewhere else," sing the boho kids in Rent. They might as well sing "everywhere else," judging by the veritable cacophony of Christmas Carols that ring out at this time of year. Show me a city and I'll show you a production of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol--whether it's Chicago, home to the Goodman Theater's boffo production (November 25-December 22), or Atlanta, where the Alliance Theater fires up the Dickens chestnut as adapted and directed by the euphoniously named David H. Bell (November 16 through December 30), or any number of other places.
Lucky Bostonians have their choice of Carols: the one-night only Shubert Theater version on November 24, the Trinity Repertory's long-runner (November 15-December 28), or--if they can hold off until chimney-time is nigh--the New Repertory Theater's version, running December 19-23. In Columbus, Carol sings through Thanksgiving weekend at the Ohio Theatre, thanks to the Nebraska Theatre Caravan's touring production. Texans have more time--the Dallas Theater Center fires up the show on November 28 and runs it through December 24, while the Alley Theatre down the road in Houston opens its production on November 23 and closes it on December 30. Delicia Harvey of the Alley reports that A Christmas Carol isn't just a popular show at the theater--it's the most popular, and has been for years. "It's obviously something that the entire family can go to, and the overall message is an uplifting one," muses Harvey. "It's something that makes everyone feel better about life."
Says Henry Godinez, who's directing the Goodman's production for the sixth year, "A Christmas Carol is a story about a journey, about redemption and self-examination and transformation. It kind of addresses the needs of people in the same way that It's A Wonderful Life does--it's the 'What if?' story. At least once a year, people need to stop and reflect and think about the ramifications of our actions among our fellow man. Certainly, this year, that's something that could be quite important."
New Yorkers have their pick of at least two Christmas Carols: the annual production at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, this year starring Tim Curry as Scrooge, and the much more intimate TheatreWorks/USA production. But if you're not the Carol-ing type at all, just head to New Orleans and pop into the Saenger Performing Arts Center any time between December 11 and 16. After all, what could look less like Christmas than Fiddler on the Roof?