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'Flat Rock Playhouse Christmas' ignites spirit of the season

“A Flat Rock Playhouse Christmas,” which opened Friday night, is the third edition of what is fast becoming a popular tradition as a feel-good celebration of the season and a gift to the community.


Led by a tight company of professional actors and supported by the gifted two-piece band of music director Jeff Ostermuller (piano and keys) and percussionist Paul Babelay, and featuring a spirited youth ensemble, a Pat’s School of Dance troupe and the Flat Rock Playhouse Chorus, the show kickstarted the holiday season for an appreciative sellout crowd on opening night.
Because Thanksgiving comes late this year, Christmas is less than four weeks away, meaning children and grandchildren joined local retirees on opening night.

Scott Treadway serves as the emcee, giving a few intros and funny bits along the way. The best-known Playhouse actor and the theater’s unofficial ambassador to the world, Treadway embodies the appeal of the show. The audience loves it for its complete lack of cynicism.
The stage comes alive when the full company, youth singers and chorus open the musical with “It’s Christmas.” The Youth Ensemble — Xavier Cacanindin, AJ Hernandez, Kyra Hewitt, Joseph Sherer, Ava Treadway and Ivy Rose Voloshin — displayed no opening night jitters when it plunged in with “Snow Beautiful Snow.”
With dancers in the foreground performing a liturgical-like dance, Jason Watson draws the heavy lifting vocal assignment of “Ava Maria” and nails it. Act I also features “What Child Is This?” and closes with a robust “O Come All Ye Faithful” by the entire cast.
The Pat’s School of Dance dancers Tori Gunning, Autumn Freeman, Kaitlyn Harrington, Brianna Haston, Jasmine, Trinity Luce, Brenna Orr, Victoria Saltz, Julianna Samotis, Kate Siefert, Mackenzie Sullivant, Grace Verstrate and Alexis Vanhook bring the stage to life in shiny red costumes for “Sleigh Ride” and perform throughout with energy and their most Christmasy smiles.
The pace of the production works well for a Christmas revue. Creator/director/choreographer Matthew Glover has sprinkled a mix of lighter numbers and humor into the first act, while loading the carols most loved and most commonly sung in church pews during Advent into the enjoyable and moving stretch run of Act II.
The instrumental highlight of the night was delivered by Paul Babelay. It’s a bit surprising that the solo instrument is the vibraphone and the song is “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” until one sees the vibe master's virtuosity on a jolly version of a fun song. You’ll grin all the way through.
Midway through the second act, Ava Treadway appears on stage to coach her struggling dad through the introduction of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” — a cute and endearing bit. After the husband-and-wife duo of Jason Watson and Kathleen Watson perform the song, Travis Battle leads “Cool Yule,” featuring a lively tap routine by Maddie Franke, Francesa Mancuso and James DuChateau.
When he takes the stage, Treadway emphatically expresses appreciation to the theater patrons for making it possible for Playhouse Vagabonds to make a life of performing. He celebrates that with “That’s the Holidays to Me,” thanking the Rock and the Blue Ridge Mountains over there. That lights the fuse for the remaining four-carol tribute to the season and the birth of Christ — “Mary Did You Know,” movingly performed by the male trio of the Equity company; “O Holy Night,” featuring the full company and adult Chorus; and finally “Joy to the World.”
Treadway reappears for the night’s valedictory, thanking everyone from the soundboard team to the catwalk occupants and most of all the audience. “You are our Santa Claus,” he says.
That brings us to “White Christmas,” a singalong that sends the theater patrons home with music in their heart and the spirit of Christmas freshly ignited.

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"A Flat Rock Playhouse Christmas" runs through Dec. 22 at the Mainstage in Flat Rock. Performances are 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For tickets call 828-693-0731 or visit www.flatrockplayhouse.org.