THEATRE REVIEWS:
THE CHRISTMAS SONGBOOK

"Jokes as entertaining as songs in Gordon's revue."

By Nick Rogers (SJ-R)

Only The Grinch himself could have left "The Christmas Songbook" and said he wasn't satisfied with the yuletide tunes he heard. More than 40 standards, comedic spoofs and new songs were heard in director/star Gus Gordon's revue, which played to a capacity matinee crowd Saturday at New Salem's Visitor Center Theater.

Gordon's show, in its third season, boasts a strong cast of local vocal talent that is as game for silly humor as it is for singing Christmas classics.

Steve Williams has a hearty voice suited for crooning, but had a scarily accurate Elvis impersonation on display as well. Not that he should, but if Williams ever gave up musical theater, the four songs he sang as The King (jumpsuit, wiggle and all) showed that he could take care of business as an impersonator. (On a side note, Nancy Diefenback's "melodramatic" reaction to Elvis' wiggling drew huge laughs from the audience.)

Cast newcomers Kristy Cole and Debbie Rudis prettily intoned "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," respectively. But the two actresses embodied well the spirits of their child personas for two songs - Cole a bratty, baseball cap-wearing kid for "I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas" and Rudis a pigtailed toothless girl "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth."

Greg Floyd, along with Williams and Gordon, also got in on some humorous bits of song. The trio's staightforward tone of voice on parodies such as "Walkin' Round" and "The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen" made the laughs they generated all the heartier. Gordon also donned a cowboy hat and overalls for a country-twang version of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."

Alongside the whimsical song parodies, Gordon's revue included a litany of one-liners, most of them uttered by Santa Claus, played by Tom Heintzelman. Heintzelman's bickering with Mrs. Claus (Ann Collins) was filled with throwaway jokes, worthy of a good chuckle.

This performance of "The Christmas Songbook" also was the rare show where microphone feedback enhanced a humorous moment, especially during "Santa Baby," just as Santa had to explain to Mrs. Claus what he was doing with three women in slinky dresses.

The night's only topical humor came when Gordon told Heintzelman's Santa that all he wanted for Christmas this year was to by mayor of Springfield.

"Yeah, you and everybody else at Channel 20," Heintzelman replied, sending the audience reeling.

The revue's sincere singing bits were equally sound. Williams' crooning was put to great effect on "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." Diefenback nicely praised the things we embrace about the season in the new song, "Christmas Cliches." And Floyd perfectly captured the romantic yearnings in the ballad "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve."

Nick Rogers can be reached for comment at 747-9587 or nick.rogers@sj-r.com

"The most wonderful time of the year."

By Ann Ker, The Illinois Times

Gordon Productions' 2002 version of THE CHRISTMAS SONGBOOK was a sold-out success, as usual, and with good reason. It was carefully cast, thoroughly prepared, and impeccably performed, with just the right balance of the songs you love to hear and comedic moments (Gus Gordon brought down the house when he told Santa: "All I want for Christmas is to be Mayor of Springfield!"). It's so much fun that the closing of New Salem's indoor theatre next year makes this show's projected demise a dismal thought.

Ann Collins and Tom Heintzelman once again romped through the evening as Santa and Mrs. Claus, and also returning were Greg Floyd, Nancy Diefenback and Steve Williams (as "Santa Elvis"). New this year were Kristy Cole and Debbie Rudis, with each performing solo as well as in the ensembles. From "I'll be Home for Christmas" to "Winter Wonderland," it was a total delight.