A Christmas Memory -The New Musical

Book by Duane Pooletheatre at the center

Music by Larry Grossman

Lyrics by Carol Hall

Directed by William Pullinsi

Produced by Theatre at the Center

Excellent Showmanship to Open Holidays

Theatre at the Center kicks off the holiday season with the regional premier of a musical based on Truman Capote’s 1956 short story “A Christmas Memory.” The show does indeed take the form of a memory, and mixes childhood nostalgia with just the right amount of melancholy. The small cast easily shifts through a wide range of music to expand Capote’s story while remaining faithful to his tone.

A Christmas Memory_ Paula Scrofano as Sook and Luke Michael Klein as Young Buddy 2

The story has a framing device in the adult Buddy Faulk (Geoff Rice) returning to his childhood home in 1955 to reminisce on November of 1933. He is greeted by the laundrywoman, Anna Stabler (Robin K. DaSilva), after the last of his relatives has died off. Buddy is basically Capote’s self-insert, and the 50s version of him has just finished his first novel, and is feeling overwhelmed and lonely.

A Christmas Memory_John Reeger, Luke Michael Klein, Paula Scrofano, Robin DaSilva, Iris Lieberman

As a child, Buddy (Luke Michael Klein) lived with his elderly distant relatives after his parents’ divorce. One of them, a slightly simple-minded sixty-something woman named Sook (Paula Scrofano) was his best friend. Every November, the two of them baked dozens of fruitcakes to send to friends, acquaintances, and celebrities. Gathering the ingredients was hard for such poor people, but they managed, and Buddy and Sook delighted in each other’s company. However, Cousin Jennie (Iris Lieberman), the family’s breadwinner, worried that fruitcake-boy was growing up soft in a hard world, and would be better off at military school. Buddy’s childhood is fleeting and not altogether pleasant.

A Christmas Memory_ Paula Scrofano as Sook and Luke Michael Klein as Young Buddy 5

The episodic plot is told through period-appropriate songs that range from ragtime to vaudeville. DaSilva, whose character mellowed with age but was a little more abrasive in Buddy’s youth, gets a show-stopping song about all the places she’s been in the country. John Reeger, as the hypochondriac Cousin Seabon, sings a lovely duet with Buddy about his dashed desire to see the world beyond his small town. Scrofano and Lieberman each get a chance to sing about their different views on parenting and what makes one a success in life. Scrofano’s Sook is a kind, imaginative old woman who is still a child mentally and at heart. We see why Buddy’s so attached to her, but also why Jenny is worried they can’t provide him with what he really needs. It’s too bad she misjudges that so badly.

A Christmas Memory_Paula Scrofano, Luke Michael Klein, Robin DaSilva, Iris Lieberman and John Reeger

Klein, a fourteen year old newcomer from Michigan, carries the show. He is proficient in acting, singing, and movement, and has an easy chemistry with the rest of the cast. Late in Act Two, he shines in the song “Buddy’s Midnight Adventure,” in which he, joined by a chorus, recounts his (mostly made-up) escape from the terrifying bootlegger HaHa (Reeger). The adult Buddy dismisses “true” crime narratives as kid-stuff unworthy of his talent. Klein is joined by the talented Madison Hertel, who plays Nelle Harper, a girl who has a crush on Buddy and beats him up. This character, who does not appear in Capote’s story but clearly is based on Harper Lee, is an example of how the writers expanded their source material while remaining within his world.

A Christmas Memory_Paula Scrofano, Geoff Rice and Luke Michael Klein

Musical director William Underwood keeps the songs lively and lets the whimsical and sadder songs go at their proper pace. Unobtrusive projections by Guy Rhodes occasionally provide some exposition for scenes that mostly take place on a rotating set by Angela Weber Miller. Her cutaway house which doubles as other locations is clever, although the flat trees on the wings look silly. Brenda Winstead’s costumes, such as HaHa’s black trench-coat, are each perfect for their character.

The play makes no apologies about being a Christmas story and delivers the sentiment its intended audiences want. But it isn’t as sugary as parents might expect; this is after all, the story of a man looking back on how he lost the only home he felt comfortable in. It’s because of the talent of all involved, but especially Klein and Scrofano, that I was willing to see this world through a child’s appreciative eyes. Families looking for quality holiday fare would do well to make the trip out to Munster this winter.

Highly Recommended

Jacob Davis
3jacob.davis@gmail.com

Reviewed November 16, 2014

Jeff Recommended

For more information, see A Christmas Memory’s page at Theatre in Chicago.

Playing at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Indiana. Call 219-836-3255 or visit theatreatthecenter.com. Runs through December 14; Wednesday and Thursday at 2:00 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday and 2:30 pm, with select Thursday evening and Saturday matinees. Tickets are $40-44. Running time is two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission.

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