At this time of year, lots of folks want to see a Christmas feel-good show. Stoneham Theatre obliges every year, and this year’s show, Christmas on the Air, playing through December 27, 2015, certainly fits the bill. Sit back, forget about holiday details for a little while, and enjoy lightweight entertainment aimed to please any stressed-out theatergoer.
Christmas on the Air pays homage to the Radio Era, bringing us back to 1949 to the studio of WKOS in the Chalmers Presbyterian Church in Swampscott, Massachusetts. It is played-off as if the theater audience is their studio audience, complete with participation when the “applause’ and “oooh-aaah” signs are held up. The format is simple: we watch the production of their Annual Christmas Radio Show while we also witness the relationships between the characters behind the scenes (or, more accurately, when the “On the Air” sign is off). The plot is as lightweight as the airwaves that it travels through, and it works nicely.
Some of the more well-known, veteran performers of Stoneham Theatre do a wonderful job of capturing the essence and emotions that we see on the air and off. The show’s host, P.B. Frank (aptly played by Stoneham Theatre regular, William Gardiner) gives us the tough and gruff persona while we learn more of his softer side.
Danny “The Kid” Frank is his energetic son, eager for a bigger role in the studio, played by Mark Linehan. He has great comedic timing and adeptly handles his props with aplomb.
My favorite character is Kitty McNally (played by Meredith Stypinski), the highly-stressed singer with a big secret, who displays the widest range of emotions of any character. Working within the lightweight format of the show, Stypinski accurately conveys her feelings with her expressions when she can’t always say what she is thinking. Oh, and her costume and wig are as about as spot-on accurate for 1949 as you can get.
Sylvia White is pianist of the production (warmly played by Meryl Galaid) who takes a back seat to the other characters until she shares her “yule log” recipe. It’s hilarious and certainly one of the highlights of the show.
Yolanda Frank is matriarch and the glue that holds the group together. Margaret Ann Brady does a wonderful job here, convincing in her passion to keep everybody (and everything) afloat.
Director Shana Gozansky does a fine job, keeping the show flowing, weaving the backstories adeptly with the action during the “on the air” time. I loved Danny Frank’s use of sound effects during a storytelling segment (squeezing a box of Market Basket corn starch to create footsteps crunching in the snow was brilliant), and was especially hilarious when it gets out of hand. The show was originally set in Canada but its relocation to Massachusetts allows the production to be peppered with local references, such as Jordan Marsh’s Enchanted Village, as well as others.
Out of all aspects in Christmas on the Air, the singing brought me the most joy. The cast adeptly handle the harmonies of crowd-pleasing classics with some lesser-known, absolutely beautiful renditions (“Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella”).
If you are ready to be bright back to a simple time and to laugh and smile for a couple of hours, seeing Christmas on the Air will be time well-spent.