This is a review of the Sutter
Street Theatre’s latest production, Holiday in the Hills. As a
newcomer to Folsom, I didn’t know this show is a holiday tradition,
being presented for its eighth time. I’ll tell you about the show below,
but before I do I want to shine the spotlight on the two people
responsible for this show and indeed every show at the Sutter Street:
Connie Mockenhaupt and Mike Jimena.
It’s easy, when enjoying a show, to
overlook this couple. You might note that the beautiful sets were
created by Mike, an accomplished artist. You may see him acting in a
supporting role. If you’re watching a musical, like the recent
outstanding Young Frankenstein, you might not take special notice
that the show was directed and choreographed by Connie.
Both Mike and Connie have multiple
degrees in theater arts and have directed and acted in hundreds of
productions. Theater lovers in Folsom need to be aware of what a gift we
have in these two brilliant artists. It is appropriate to note our
gratitude while experiencing Holiday in the Hills, because it is
truly the Mike and Connie show.
If you go to the show expecting, as
I did, to learn about the history of Folsom in the 1880s, give or take a
year or two, you can do that by reading the program carefully. Each of
the performers is playing a real person who had a real presence in
Folsom at that time, and the program will tell you who each is and what
they contributed to the town.
And what did these prominent
citizens and children of Folsom do in 1880? The show makes very clear
that what they did was sing and dance up a storm. No boring historical
or biographical speeches, just glorious song and energetic and
excitingly choreographed dance. I can’t remember a musical I’ve gotten
more caught up in.
The only character in the show we
really get to know by name is Peter J. Hopper who was editor of the
Telegraph in those days. Mr. Hopper, performed with great style by
none other than Mike Jimena, is the master of ceremonies of this
extravaganza. His reading of “The Night Before Christmas” will make you
feel you’ve never really heard this poem before.
It is difficult to single out
individual singers, though a few who really impressed me with their
vocal talent were Tom Dwyer, Dian Hoel, and Tyler Eckert. A vocal
highlight was the solo of “Merry Christmas, Baby,” given a sexy turn
with the audience by, yes, Connie Mockenhaupt playing Emma Spencer, the
town madam, in a sexy red dress. The entire ensemble, though, deserves
full kudos for this wonderful music accompanied by John Wilder with a
keyboard he makes sound like an orchestra. The songs are often
variations on traditional Christmas favorites. Thus we learn about the
Twelve Days After Christmas” and “O Christmas Tree” becomes “Oh
Plastic Tree.” Who knew they had plastic Christmas trees in 1880? Give
or take a year or two.
The most amazing song in the show is
“Yah Das Ist Und Christmas Tree” which brought the whole audience to its
feet and made us all members of the Full Ensemble. If you are a
long-time Folsom resident who has seen this show before, or a newcomer
like me, I must tell you that a visit to the Mike and Connie show,
Holiday in the Hills, is guaranteed to put you in the holiday mood.