OGDEN — Broadway on the Side is a new performing group in Ogden, and We Need a Little Christmas is the second show they have invited Utah Theatre Bloggers to attend. Directed by founder Megan Worthen Nelson, who also stars in the cast, the production is a cabaret evening of Christmas songs from musicals and other places that celebrates the heart of the season while celebrating the talent of the Northern Utah area.
Worthen-Nelson also served as the MC of the evening, and used the time to discuss the purpose and mission of Broadway on the Side, which is to build a community of actors, give new and varied opportunities for performance, and allow seasoned actors and amateurs to learn from each other. In addition to all of this, a portion of all proceeds go to fundraising for a community arts center in the northern Ogden area.
I saw the mission played out in full force the evening I attended, and it was rather delightful. Worthern-Nelson was clearly no stranger to the stage, and also played well the part of the 2022 year of the understudy, stepping in for a few cast members who had fallen ill. She was impeccable singing the song “Sisters” from White Christmas with Isabella Peterson, who according to the playbill was a performance novice, having credited this as her first live performance. Peterson was supposed to have sung this song with her actual sister, but her sister had fallen ill, so much like many shows I have reviewed this year, Worthen-Nelson showed the true mark of a performer by stepping in as an understudy. Peterson gave a fine performance, especially as a newly minted performer, and as the mission of the company states, it was a master class in watching the seasoned perform with the newcomer.
Other standouts in the cast included husband and wife Jordan T. Gardner and Kylie Gardner, who sang “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, and I was so glad that before they sang it, Worthen-Nelson shared the history of that somewhat problematic song. Written by famous lyricist Frank Loesser, it used to be a party favorite that he and his wife sang. I loved the tidbits of trivia that were thrown in through the night, and that it made the song choices and performances that much more interesting.
Audrey Christensen sang one of the most famous musical Christmas songs, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” made famous in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis, and sung of course by the legendary Judy Garland. It is a challenge to take on such a number, and Christensen did well with her golden voice and animated personality.
The entire cast opened the evening with “We Need A Little Christmas” from the musical Mame, and had a couple of other group numbers scattered throughout the program. They even had two numbers that included audience sing-along, which, in my personal opinion, is really a strong benefit to a holiday performance.
Broadway on the Side is such a new company that there were some snags along the way. The sound system struggled throughout the night. Several of the cast members were getting over sicknesses and you could hear it in their voices and see it in their faces. One thing that was rather moving about this was watching them step in for each other, jump in when one could not hit a note, or if a lyric was missed. The passion for performance and love of the cast was clearly evident. The space that they are able to utilize is inside a small strip mall, and was obviously not set up for theatrical performance, which did not help with the sound issues.
A few really fun touches were added like cast member Brian Fairbourn singing “Mele Kalikimaka” with an electric ukelele, which was a surprise to me that those even existed. I was also impressed with Alex Fairbourn’s rendition of “That’s Christmas to Me,” a song that was new to me. It is rare that I come across music, especially Christmas music, that is new, so I commend the music choices for going from the most traditional to the new.
Because Broadway on the Side is new to Utah and trying to take root, the audience was quite small. I am hoping the word gets out, not only for increased attendance, but also for performers to take advantage of a new and different opportunity to showcase their talents in Northern Utah.