Nancy Sasso Janis
‘Christmas Eve at Earlene’s Diner The Best Dang Christmas Variety Show Ever!’ is a Seven Angels Second Stage Community production running through December 27, 2015. Director Semina De Laurentis conceived and wrote this piece to celebrate the Christmas season and celebrate the community as Seven Angels marks their 25th season. Every year, the Seven Angels Artistic Director adapts and changes the show to reflect the community theatre people who join them at Earlene’s diner. The director also thanks the inimitable Michelle Gotay for allowing her to make the endearing character of Miss Earlene the guiding force of the action that makes the audience laugh throughout. As promised, opening night was truly a “treat” and a “joy” for the supportive family and friends of cast members who attended, including WATR’s Barbara Davitt, Foster Evans Reese, and Joanne Chenkus.
So Earlene’s Diner is open once again for business in the middle of an awful snowstorm, forcing a whole host of characters into her establishment instead of the venue for the annual Christmas variety show. Out of necessity the setting for the variety show becomes the diner and Earlene herself becomes the host. Ms. Gotay is lovable and very funny as the waitress with aspirations of being a star and because of her, this show is one that makes my face hurt from smiling and laughing through the two acts.
The song break down in the program includes some Christmas classics with a few surprises. There are a few not so subtle local references, like when Earlene mentions sponsor Fascia’s Chocolates in her hysterical first act closer entitled “12 Steps of Christmas” and also tries to convince Tommie Jameson (WATR’s Tom Chute) that he should think about going into radio.
Many of the solos were good and some were outstanding. Tenor Alex Niatopsky (NTT’s ‘Guys and Dolls’) sang beautifully on his solo of “Believe.” James Donohue brought a Chuck Stango level of charm to the role of Earlene’s friend Sam and was great on his duet with Miss Earlene on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Finch” and a very funny “Hanukkah Song.” Mr. Chute sang a spirited “Christmas in Killarney” and then the beautiful holiday piece written by Richard DeRosa entitled “Keeping Christmas” as only he can.
My favorite ensemble number was a spirited “Feliz Navidad” with Earlene on maracas, and the quartet of Mr. Chute, Louis Follo, Mr. Niatopsky, and Mr. Donohue on “O Holy Night” was vocal perfection.
Michael Sacco (Mike) and Kathleen Walker (Jesse) had a duet for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The perennial Santa, Timothy Clearly is always adorable. Mr. Follo channeled Elvis for “Blue Christmas” and Kodylynn Perkins sang a beautiful version of “Mary Did You Know.” Theresa Amico played the harried television producer and John Fabiani was her assistant. Bill Wilson returns as the hysterical cook/substitute nun and his “Sister Julia’s Fruitcake Recipe” from ‘Nuncrackers’ by Dan Goggin is a comedic highlight.
Joe Stofko, often seen at The Gary-The Olivia, returns as the grouchy psychiatrist Dr. Fred. Kelly Mehiel and Maytae Harge had a surprise for the diner’s proprietress. Young Rachel Arianna sang and danced as Katie Winters, while Norma Jean Lombard played her mom. Patricia Paganucci (in her Seven Angels debut as Wendy) looked amazing as a Rockette.
There is a large group of talented young people in the student ensemble that keep up with the grown ups and include Grace Altenburger from Blessed Sacrament Children’s Theater and Nicole Thomas. They are chaperoned by a gaggle of Seven Angel’s nuns. Cristina DiMuro Trnik, Doreen Lopez, Diane DeLucia, Michele Marchetti, and Martha Thomas were probably having too much fun in their habits and kept us smiling.
Music Director TJ Thompson ensured that everyone gave their best vocal performance and encouraged the audience to join in on one of the medleys. Choreography by Ralph Cantito is always charming. Mr. Donohue designed the endearing costumes and stage managed the crowd at the diner. Daniel Husvar cheerily decorated the lobby of the adjacent motel within an inch of its life and it was lit well by Matt Guminski. Matt Martin took care of the sound needs at the diner.
Two audience members are chosen for cameos to rings some Christmas bells. After the final bows, the cherub of a Santa heads to the lobby to pose for photos with diner patrons in the beautifully decorated Seven Angels lobby. This variety show is so much fun, but the wonderful charm of Miss Earlene who seldom leaves the stage is definitely the best dang part of the two hours. Check out this video for just a taste of Ms. Gotay’s alter ego.
Performances at Earlene’s diner are on Friday and Saturday at a family-friendly 7:30 PM with Sunday matinees at 2 PM. Save when you purchase a Family four pack-2 adults and 2 kids just $104.
Photos by Paul Roth for Seven Angels