Festival of Christmas - Christmas on My Mind
Nov 30th, 2012 - Dec 30th, 2012
Musical Director by Jon Lorenz
Written and Directed by Kerry Meads
Big Dee Nathan Peirson
Roderick Davis Bryan Barbarin
Carson Gray Anton Fero
Manny Leonard Patton
Charlie Wyndham Cris O'Bryon
Gene Wisdom Jon Lorenz
Taylor Wisdom Paula Steiger Bloomer
Noelle Season Bowers
Parker Joanne Barber
Natasha Partnoy
James McFadden David Kirk Grant
Posey Remy Corbin
Hourie Klijian
Scenic Designer Mike Buckley
Lighting Designer Lila Lace Flores King
Costume Designer Jeanne Reith
Stage Manager Michael McKeon
Sound Designer/Audio Master Patrick J. Duffy
Properties Designer Julie Lorenz
Original Songs & Arrangements Eric Cederberg
Original Songs & Arrangements Teran Gray
Original Songs & Arrangements Cris O'Bryon
Original Songs & Arrangements Rik Ogden
Original Songs & Arrangements Leonard Patton
Original Songs & Arrangements Jon Lorenz
Sound Engineer Stephanie Celustka
"Finding refuge in the company of friends old and new, and in the pleasures of turning hardship into harmony.

That’s the story behind “Christmas On My Mind,” this year’s edition of Lamb’s Players Theatre’s annual “Festival of Christmas” tradition.

It’s also, in its own way, the story of Lamb’s itself — of a venerable theater that has had a few difficult years but, with help from abundantly talented artists it has embraced and (in many cases) groomed, keeps doing work worth savoring.

“Christmas On My Mind,” an encore of a Kerry Meads-scripted piece first staged in 2007, is the most successful and satisfying “Festival” piece I’ve seen yet. It also brings together some prominent members of the theater’s extended creative family, including ace musical director (and cast member) Jon Lorenz, actors Bryan Barbarin, Season Bowers and Nathan Peirson, and such multi-threat music and acting talents as Leonard Patton and Cris O’Bryon.

Given that Lamb’s had to disband its full-time resident acting ensemble earlier this year in the face of financial struggles, it’s encouraging to see that so much of the creative community the company has built over the years remains in the Coronado-based theater’s orbit.

The music-filled play, set in a remote mountain cabin during a very snowy Christmas, also is blessed with strong work from some fresh faces (to Lamb’s, anyway).

The setup: Musician Manny (played by Patton) is playing host to a houseful of people who’ve converged on a nearby resort town and, thanks to a snowstorm and blocked road, have found themselves stuck in the cabin.

There’s friction from the start between such parties as Bowers’ free-spirited wanderer Noelle and the ex-police chief McFadden (excellent David Kirk Grant), who’s a wary and worried granddad to young sisters Parker (Joanne Barber) and Posey (Remy Corbin). (Joanne and Remy, who both did admirable work on opening night, alternate in the roles with Natasha Partnoy and Hourie Klijian.)

The funny and blustery Barbarin plays Roderick, a chef and ex-football player, while O’Bryon, an appealing singer and pianist, is Charlie, an ever-neurotic musician from Miami. (His quip about the unfamiliar weather conditions: “Winter is on Hallmark cards and when the drinks change at Starbucks.”)

Lorenz, likewise a whiz on the keys, portrays Gene, Charlie’s performing partner and husband to Taylor (sweet-voiced Paula Steiger Bloomer). Nathan Peirson (who’s also the production manager for Lamb’s) is Big Dee, a lovably gruff, guitar-playing trucker with a troubled past; newcomer Anton Fero makes his mark as Carson, a prickly L.A. rocker with sharp electric-guitar skills.

The story by Lamb’s associate artistic chief Meads, who also directs, has some crackling dialogue and vibrant (if lightly sketched) characters, but it functions just as much to showcase the music.

Patton, the singular jazz singer-musician who has anchored multiple “Festival” productions, leads the ensemble in an irresistible reggae take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”; his own composition “The Babe Is King” is graced by delicate vocal harmonies.

Lorenz’s affecting vocal arrangements highlight “Melancholy Bells,” while Grant’s guitar-playing brings flamenco texture to “O Come, Emmanuel.”

Mike Buckley’s copiously detailed cabin set evokes the feel of a sanctuary from the storms that, in various ways, mark all these characters’ lives. It’s an inviting place to get in tune with the season, and with the work of this durable theater."
- Jim Hebert ( UT, San Diego )
"Okay, Manny's just a musician with a great log cabin way up in the mountains. It's got a huge picture window looking east and is stocked with enough food to feed the 5000. He's taking time to relax and remodel the dream house, right?

Well, maybe - and maybe that giant Sequoia simply fell across the road during a storm on December 23, stranding 11 people, most of whose lives are emotionally stranded. And they have nothing in common but music.

They found the cabin by seeing a light in the window. Mmmm-hmmm. And as they trail in, Manny wanders in and out - doing what? Who knows. And he always knows when to wander, giving a husband and wife, or an adopted child and her grandfather, the chance to re-bond or, to extend the cabin-metaphor, re-model themselves.

They have time because Manny's crib has electricity but no TV or WiFi or "can you hear me now?" bars. And since the storm will rage till Christmas Day, they're left to their own devices and, a rarity in the age of social media, face-to-face contact.

But come on, could Manny, played with an understated sagacity by Leonard Patton, be the helping hand prayed for in the 12th century lyric, "O Come, Emanuel"?

Kerry Meads subtle script and Patton's knowing smile hint at if not the possibility, at least an intriguing similarity.

The suggestion's as tricky as Lamb's Players' other leap of faith: that someone can tap on the floor, or pluck a guitar, and the group spontaneously bonds - that word again - and sings holiday songs with mega-sophisticated arrangements: intricate harmonies, unexpected syncopation (as in Patton's conga drum-driven "O Holy Night"), and polished accompaniments.

Somehow they do. So maybe Manny does cast a spell, or the cabin does, or the season. Or, another possibility, Manny dreamed the whole thing.

Another question: where does Lamb's find so many unfamiliar but spirited holiday songs? They either write them: Chris O'Byron's "Just Say No to Snow"; Patton's "The Babe is King" and "Christmas on My Mind"; Jon Lorenz's "The Music of Christmas" and "The Best Part of Christmas is Loving You"; or they arrange them: Nathan Peirson's guitar verson of "Joy to the World"; and several by Lorenz, a maestro, who weaves the traditional with the contemporary, often for this show with Caribbean-based inflections. The music makes the show.

It's said that playwrights shouldn't direct their work. Kerry Meads has done both well. Her ensemble cast has no slouches. They play so many different instruments they constitute, in effect, quite a back-up band.

Properties designer Julie Lorenz has filled Mike Buckley's appealing, two-story set with telling details and what must be, during the run, a near-infinite supply of Oreo cookies."
- Jeff Smith ( The Reader )
"In this season of blessings I want to say as a reviewer how fortunate we are in San Diego to have the quality of talented performers, directors, and venues of which to attend plays. Time and time again I'm amazed as I go out to see these plays and am throughly entertained. Chances are if you see a play advertised you think you would enjoy you probably will. Take the time to go out and support the arts while you escape the stress of everyday life. A win win for all.

Festival of Christmas if chosen will not disappoint. Meads and Lorenz did a fantastic job bringing this cast of eleven talented performers together for a wonderful Christmas experience.

Set in present day in a mountain hideaway in the Western United States, December 23 through Christmas day. When a tree falls across the road in a blizzard, ten weary strangers are brought together in the cabin of Manny played by Leonard Patton. Who I like to think was part of the magic of Christmas who brought this diverse group of travelers together to heal them so they could move on with their lives.

The favorite part of Christmas for Parker played by Joanne Barber and Gene Wisdom played by the extremely talented Jon Lorenz, is the music. And the music of Christmas is what brought the strangers together. Each actor played one or several instruments along with singing. Beautiful voices adding a Caribbean kind of beat to Christmas music. Some familiar songs and some new arrangements - all magical.

The talented cast also included Nathan Person as Big Dee, Bryan Barbarin as Roderick, Chris O' Bryon as Charlie, Anton Fero, as Carson, Paula Steiger Bloomer, as Taylor, Season Bowers as Noelle, David Kirk Grant, as McFadden and Remy Corbin as little Posey.

The cast has put together a Cd of the fantastic Christmas music sold in the lobby after the show. A special gift for a friend or loved one.

A special shout out to Michael McKeon for the warmth and comfort and bringing the perfect lodgelike feel to the set.

Festival of Christmas a magical Christmas treat."
- Kathy Carpenter ( SDWRITEWAY.ORG )