All-star holiday gift from High Street

Cary Ginell reviews Christmas Magic at HSAC

After a year off due to COVID, the High Street Arts Center once again sprinkled a little “Christmas Magic!” in Moorpark, presenting its annual revue of holiday songs and stories for a two-weekend run, Dec. 3 to 12. The show, directed by Ken Rayzor and Nora Morris, featured performers from past HSAC shows, a veritable allstar holiday gift to the theater’s patrons.

What sets “Christmas Magic!” apart from other seasonal productions are the intelligent and informative spoken introductions (written by Rayzor and David Hatfield) that present backstories, trivia and other contextual information about the songs. Since tradition is a very big part of the holiday season, “Christmas Magic!” has its own traditions, including a rare theatrical showcase for a lighting director, Patrick Duffy’s flashy, synchronized light show set to a recording of “Carol of the Bells,” in which “conductor” Nick Newkirk directs stage spotlights that obediently respond to his motions like trained show dogs, even bowing to the audience at the song’s conclusion.

Other welcomed traditions included the wryly avuncular Don Johnson, who is looking more like Santa Claus every year, reading Clement Moore’s 1823 poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (aka “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”), to a passel of youngsters who are lulled to sleep by Johnson’s tones. This year, in deference to safety, four teenagers were used instead of the usual small children.

The annual singing of two 19th century pieces, Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” (which isn’t really a Christmas song) and the 1847 Christmas carol “O Holy Night,” were handled by Becca Peyton, possessor of a mellifluous, operatically trained voice. Peyton sang the former song in the original Latin and was joined by Caleb Heulitt on the latter number.

Another High Street tradition is the singing of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” led by Darrin Ingram, during which patrons in each of the theater’s 12 rows are responsible for delivering successive lines of the song.

Ingram, his wife, Susan, and children Kaelia and Skyler sang a nice version of the Irving Berlin standard “White Christmas.” Darrin and Susan Ingram also performed the winter season duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which Frank Loesser wrote in order to get rid of party guests who were overstaying their welcome.

Christmas-related Broadway songs were represented by “Seasons of Love” (“Rent”), “We Need a Little Christmas” (from “Mame,” sung by Morris), and “Pinecones and Holly” (“Here’s Love”).

There were some new additions to the lineup this year, including two songs from the 1954 Irving Berlin musical film “White Christmas.” Morris and Megan Rayzor sang “Sisters” (which also featured Jack Cleary and Ezra Eells miming the song) and Heulitt, Newkirk, Melia Bacon and Randi Redman performed “Snow.”

“Christmas Magic!” normally features songs performed by students from two area elementary schools, but this time a teen ensemble was substituted. The group sang “Extraordinary Merry Christmas,” written by Adam Anders for the television series “Glee,” and backed Terika Jefferson on “Do You Hear What I Hear,” which was written as a plea for peace during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Redman, costumed in brilliant blue, sang a heartfelt rendition of “Blue Christmas.” Bacon, an impressive newcomer, delivered her own exceptional solo, performing a lovely version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Alison Rosenblum directed the Holiday Chorus in the ensemble numbers while Peyton served as music director.