Dear Santa will definitely lift your spirits
 
By ELISSA BARNARD Arts Reporter | Theatre Review Sat. Dec 13, 2008
 

Norm Fosterís Dear Santa is a warm, goofy, lovable Christmas show. The two-hour story, rich in broad comedy and rapid-fire wordplay, is set in the North Pole where a kindly, authoritative Santa (John Dartt) organizes his world-travelling days with his cold chief-of-staff Algernon (Brian Heighton). Swooning not so secretly over Algernon is Santaís slightly dumb housekeeper Octavia (Stacy Smith), who is always after the elves for tossing their undies into the laundry basket as if it were a basketball hoop. On Christmas Eve, three things go awry. A tough and edgy teen, Kit, arrives to hand-deliver a letter from her younger brother, the supply train arrives without one key supply and a sleigh salesman jets in from Detroit. Thatís apart from a problematic, tuneless choir. Once you get into this high-energy, comedic world at Alderney Landing Theatre and embrace Fosterís effusive, ebullient style, the show is a delight. Very strong character actors working on a fantastic, ginger-bready set bring a richness to their stereotypical characters beyond their one-note quirks.

Itís a pleasure to see Wally MacKinnon back on stage in metro as the manic, forceful yet childlike salesman Lou Flapdoodle. Heighton, in perfect pale British voice and lonely restraint as Algernon, brings a wonderful physicality to his stiff, yet accident-prone character, an essentially kind man beneath his sarcasm. When he and the workshop boss Bozidar get their hands glued together, yet try to maintain their composure as they pretzel their bodies before Santa, itís hilarious. Sheldon Davis is engagingly robust and articulate as Bozidar, whose tick is an incessant, funny mangling of everyday phrases like "okey-donkey," "Itís an apostrophe!" and "the devilís avocado."

     
  Smith makes Octavia more lovely and lovelorn than dumb, while the "straight" characters of Santa himself and Kit, played by a vocally talented and convincing 13-year-old Stephanie Hood, keep this highly-populated play centred. Everyoneís comic timing is very sharp, and director Scott Burkeís tone is one of warmth and good-natured teasing particularly when it comes to the antipathy between Algernon and the elves, played by three alternating casts of kids, and led by the merry head elf (Colin Furlong).

Zachary Smith, left, Jenna Curwin, Stacy Smith and Isabel Stordy are shown in Eastern Front Theatreís production of Dear Santa, on stage at Alderney Landing Theatre, Dartmouth until Dec. 28.(PETER PARSONS / Staff    
     

Itís always economically smart to put kids into a Christmas show since friends and family will flock to the theatre, and itís always unwise to show evidence of budgetary concerns. There is delightfully no sign of cost-cutting in Dear Santa. Eastern Front Theatreís artistic producer Burke is a wise elf when it comes to hiring the best designers including lighting designer Leigh Ann Vardy and shoring up a light, comedic script with top-flight production values. Dear Santaís set and costume designer John C. Dinning previously designed Neptuneís productions of The Producers, Disneyís Beauty and the Beast, The Sound of Music and Annie. His brick house with fabled peaks and chimney pots and candy cane posts sits beneath night stars and a full moon. The interior, open to the audience, is the toy shop with shelves full of toys like a storybook illustration. Two walls magically move back to reveal Santaís office. The painted floor is a golden, old-fashioned wood that invites the audience into the warmth of this story.

Dinningís costumes are also wonderful, with a contemporary pink and patterned outfit with tights for Kit, an opulent red Santa suit which causes little kids to gasp, and a dreamy, red and white lace Christmas dress for Octavia. Burke and his actors start Dear Santa at full steam and keep the show rocketing along softening and slowing only towards its sweet ending. While this is definitely a family show, some of the wordplay is going to zoom right over the heads of little kids, who might fidget as the first act sets up all the characters and story lines. Dear Santa, with its vitality and Christmas message, makes you laugh (in spite of yourself) and lifts your spirits. An added bonus is a new Christmas expletive: "Sweet merciful jingle bells!"

 
Dear Santa runs to Dec. 28, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. except Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, with a special $10 performance this Sunday, Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m. (tickets go on sale at 6:30 p.m.) Matinees are Saturdays and Sundays and Dec. 24 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 student and youth, $25 senior and $28 adult from 1-888-311-9090 or www.easternfront.ns.ca or at the Alderney Landing box office