Playing thru December 23, 2011

LOGAN — We had never heard of Pickleville Playhouse until we were given the opportunity to do our first review for UTBA. It was extremely exciting to be seeing a show and stressful to know we had to review it.

12.25 A Merry Musical Comedy is about a widower with two children who wants to give his kids a good Christmas but does not have the money to do so. That night he has a dream about the elves at the workshop having problems and trying to raise the money to send Christmas to the children. However, in the dream, they are waiting for Santa to arrive with the “Christmas Magic” that nothing can replicate.

While walking into the theatre, the children in the audience were so energetic and at home. It’s been our experience that most children are somber, quiet, and disconnected in theatre situations. Not this show. Santa even sits on the stage for children to visit before the performance! We almost felt left out for not going to the dinner because of this energy.

I opened the program after being seated to find no scene and song synopsis. As an audience member that threw me off and as a reviewer I became concerned. (I hope to still identify scenes and songs correctly, but I apologize in advance.) However, there was “a note from Pickleville” inserted. I was impressed with how faith-building the insert was about the show. Even though it was very clear the production was focused on Christian values, anyone could watch it and gain an appreciation for that “Christmas magic” and not feel preached to.

The show began with actor and writer T.J. Davis, playing Brandon, the young and jobless widower, and his two children, Luke (Bryson Hackler) and Jack (Carter Davis). Davis was very natural on stage and realistic with his children. His voice was relaxed and awesome! The only thing that could enhanced his performance was by having more obstacles—especially when he blows off his strange next door neighbor, Mr. Greechner (Jordan Todd Brown) who rubs Brandon’s stomach, orders him around,  takes his hot chocolate maker and walks out. Brandon gets rid of Greechner by simply letting out a little laugh. Life is really never this simple.

Emily (Sharli Davis King) was the aunt of the children, and impressed my wife with her performance in the last scene (but we won’t say how because it would spoil the plot). Elanor (Megan Bagley) was cute and sweet in her role as lonely next door neighbor, and shone in the choreography. Zanita (Whitney Davis), was the most energetic of characters, and stole the stage in a good way. She poured a lot of energy into her role and worked hard. With some variety to her bold tactics Whitney Davis could have charmed the audience more by exploiting subtlety during the crazy moments, like the warning signs to a volcanic eruption.

Mr. Greechner and Zanita at the end of the show had a great quick exchange of dialogue and physicality that displayed how well Andrea Davis directed the show. While great moments were made by those giving specific dialogue, the rest of the characters were very static when left to watch others further the plot. This sort of situation was evident several times during the evening. We found it frustrating because we like shows with a cohesive ensemble with clear objectives even when the spotlight it not on them.

The music, which was also written by T.J. Davis, was fun, but often touching. The hip-hop number in the toy shop mashed several hip-hop songs. My wife especially liked when they sang, “I like big gifts and I cannot lie,” and about presents that were “boots with the fur.”

The set of the second act, designed by Andrea Burdzy and built by Kelly Weeks, was impressive. The tree’s trimmings and the tall mailing cubicles on the wall would convince any child that we had entered into Santa’s workshop. It was worth the minute and half awkward scene change to see how the colors red and green were used with accents of blue compliment such a toy shop. We also liked how well the small space was used and was not cluttered. (Nothing is worse than a show that doesn’t use space well.) Costumes and makeup, done by Lois Hugie and Erin Davis, were perfect additions to the set. My wife even commented about how pretty the sparkling telethon dresses were.

One of the big downsides of the second act was that the characters referred frequently to the (offstage) basement as being where all the activity was. Unfortunately, that meant the audience could not see the main obstacles. Even seeing traces and hearing sounds of the disaster come onstage would have enhanced the show.

The lighting, designed by Milinda Weeks, was planned well. The gradual changes within songs and the variations in the brightness were pleasing. I was not a fan of the blackouts before most numbers in the telethon so quickly, because it dropped the energy (especially before the three girls’ trio).

The script, written by T.J. Davis, had great one-liners. I was also quite impressed with how lines that were said earlier in the show popped up in the dream, showing the action was taking place in Brandon’s dream specifically.

The choreography, done by Sharli Davis King, was sharp, timed well, and fun to watch. It didn’t really push along the plot or establish much with the characters. Overall, it felt like a vaudeville show with a simple plot and a good message. My how the kids in the audience cheered in their seats when the actors danced.

The sound, designed by Bodie Brower, was loud enough so we could hear the dialogue, which means we could easily follow the story. However, the music would oftentimes blare over the singers. Also, the balance with the men’s voices could have been brought out so that the chords might be fuller and have something low to match the girls’ high pitches (which is the risk you run when you have a show with no basses.)

At the end of the night, we both left the show pleased with the talent we saw both technically and artistically. We recommend people especially to take their children and enjoy it as a night with good talent and great fun. It is pricey by local-Logan standards, but we think it is worth it to see how happy the kids were afterwards. And you never know how the “Christmas magic” will touch your family.

The Pickleville Playhouse production of 12.25: A Merry Musical Comedy plays at the Eccles Conference Center on the campus of Utah State University December 22 and 23 at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $12-16. A dinner option (starting at 6 PM) is available for an extra cost. For more information, visit