I had a front row seat on the
sold-out opening night of this year’s version of Sutter Street Theatre’s
annual musical treat, “Holiday in the Hills.” I have seen every Sutter
Street production since May of 2013 and even acted in one, “Sarah Plain
and Tall.” This show is the most fun I have had in this or any theatre
in that time.
That said, I must admit this will
not be a fair, “objective” review. After seeing everything Sutter Street
has done, I have developed a great fondness for the people who put this
show and the others together, and for a number of performers I have seen
several times. Everyone on stage is excellent, a true ensemble cast, but
I’ll unfairly slight newcomers and focus on those whose work I have
grown to love.
What sort of show is “Holiday in the
Hills”? Different every year (this is its ninth production), the show
claims to be a gathering of actual residents of Folsom or visitors in
the late 1800s, “give or take a year or two.” Director Connie
Mockenhaupt tells us that “some [of the stories] are true, some are
expanded a bit, and some are just plain made up.” But this is not a
history play. It is a non-stop celebration in song and dance of the joy
of musical theatre.
Mike Jimena, Managing Director, set
designer, artist, actor and director, narrates the show as Peter J.
Hopper, the owner and editor of The Folsom Telegraph. His warmth
and charm set the tone for the show. The outstanding performer, in my
opinion, is the multi-talented Christopher Celestin. Chris is a
wonderful singer, dancer, and actor whose smile and good looks command
attention whether he is doing a solo, a duo or trio, or is part of the
Talking about Chris brings me to
Hazel Johnson, the “senior” member of the cast, who, among other
contributions, does a hilarious bit to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in which
she tries to seduce Chris’s schoolteacher as he tries desperately to
escape her grasp.
A highlight of this show is Kelly
Mauro as Hazel McFarland, another editor of the Telegraph. I
acted with Kelly and her daughter Grace, who is also in this show, in
“Sarah Plain and Tall.” Here Kelly sings a beautiful solo, “Merry
Christmas Darling,” performs a solo violin piece, and sings and dances
with the ensemble throughout the show. This year her youngest daughter,
six-year-old Annie, who made her theatrical debut with her mom and
sister earlier this year in “Folsom’s Gold,” steals the hearts of the
In the sexiest number in the show,
Artistic Director Connie Mockenhaupt, (who is also co-writer, director,
and choreographer) reprises her role as Emma Spencer, the town madam.
Her “Merry Christmas, Baby” brings down the house as she moves through
the audience, flirting with every man she encounters.
And speaking of the audience,
“Holiday in the Hills” makes the audience part of the show in a way I’ve
never seen happen elsewhere. Christopher Celestin, in a “horrible German
accent,” teaches the audience the moves and the choreography to “Yah Das
Ist Und Christmas Tree,” which everyone performs, not just once, but
twice—the last time at double speed. Talk about fun in the theatre!
I must not close without mentioning
the always brilliant accompaniment of John Wilder. We were awarded not
only his wonderful keyboard work, but also two solos on his other
instrument, the banjo. John remains one of the greatest assets of Sutter
My apologies to the many outstanding
performers I did not have room to mention. There is not a weak spot in
the cast. I can’t emphasize strongly enough, for a fantastic evening of
holiday entertainment that will bring a smile to your face as you
remember it throughout the season, do not miss this year’s version of
“Holiday in the Hills.” But get tickets soon—folks who have seen this
show in the past will make this a sell-out very quickly.