Back by popular demand and refreshed for 2019, Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents Riverside Christmas Spectacular, a variety show composed of beloved Christmas classics, with a few fun new treats as well. Director Patrick A’Hearn provides the Book for this production alongside Sherri L. Edelen, with Musical Arrangements by Paul Rawlins. Angela Donadio directs a live orchestra onstage, and they do an impeccable job with the music.
Emcee Kathy Halenda is as charming and welcoming as you’d hope a Christmas host would be, providing seamless transitions between numbers and acts. This pageant celebrates the Christmas spirit–the jubilation, the comfort, and yes, even the melancholy–of the season. Scenic design adapted from an original design by Peter J. Everly includes the peaceful tranquility of a snow-covered village and the exciting hustle of New York City, all under the heavy luxury of red velvet curtains. It’s no doubt that this is a special occasion, made even grander with costume coordination by Kyna Chilcot, who used an adaptation of Gaye Law’s original design. A wide selection of sharp dance costumes are nearly outdone by an array of gorgeous, glittery ball gowns.
There are at least twenty musical numbers in this production, with a fairly large adult and youth ensemble to perform them alongside featured vocalists. The diversity of the material is impressive; from seasoned classics such as “Silver Bells” (Caitlin Fitzhugh) and “O Holy Night” (Rhonda Oliver), to upbeat numbers with fun choreography by Stephanie Wood. My favorite number for choreography has to be the energizing “Hot Chocolate” from the film “Polar Express,” though “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” is a close second, featuring crisp, regimented dance moves performed by an army of toy soldiers. Anthony Cosby Jr. has a memorable moment with “Jingle Bell Rock,” and the youth ensemble gets a lot of laughs with the playful “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas.” Audience interaction is a big part of this show, so if you’re shy, you may want to avoid tickets in the first few rows! Kathy Halenda gets flirtatious and fun with “Santa Baby,” and the audience is encouraged to join in a sing-a-long for a few numbers, such as “Joy to the World” and “White Christmas.”
While much of the show is joyous and effervescent, there are poignant, emotional numbers as well. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a beautiful homage to the Armed Forces, offering comfort and catharsis to veterans and their families. Ian Lane delivers strong, hypnotic vocals with “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Grey Garrett nearly steals the whole show when she personifies Judy Garland and sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” While you may think that this song would be out of place in a Christmas show, somehow it fits perfectly and ties everything together with profound beauty and gratitude.
Riverside Center for the Performing Arts’ Riverside Christmas Spectacular is a show that the entire family can enjoy together, and is the perfect way to welcome the holiday season. If this show can’t get you into the holiday spirit, then I doubt anything else will!
Running Time: Two and a half hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
Riverside Christmas Spectacular plays through December 29, 2019, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call (540) 370-4300 or purchase them online.