Ho Ho Ho offers bright and energetic holiday entertainment at Columbia Children’s Theatre. Designed to engage even the youngest audience members, this production features wacky humor in the custom of British pantomime. As “panto” embraces audience participation and madcap folly, Ho Ho Ho keeps viewers shouting with gleeful laughter at the silly antics of familiar festive characters. Father and Mother Christmas (i.e. Santa and Mrs. Claus) face rollicking chaos as they strive to reclaim elusive holiday spirit amid comical mishaps. Tradition blends with pop culture references as elves cavort to contemporary hit songs. Audience members will enjoy participating in this rowdy ride through pursuit of Christmas magic. The boisterous comic style of the show embraces broad physical jokes as in vaudeville, including slapstick sequences that may startle some of the youngest viewers, as well as a bit of potty humor that will appeal to a wide cross-section of audience members. (Truth be told, my husband and I laughed even harder than our children did during one particularly memorable sound cue sequence…I bet you’ll know which one if you see the show.)
As directed by Frank Thompson, the production maintains a brisk pace and admirable clarity. Cast members work together in a vibrant, captivating ensemble. In the central role of Father Christmas, Lee O. Smith brings empathy and warmth to his character in the midst of the wild hijinks. Will Moreau as the Musical Elf shares a special talent for mesmerizing the young audience, often without speaking a word. Mother Christmas (Christy Shealy Mills) drives the play’s narrative with vivacity, while the effervescent elves are portrayed with enthusiastic commitment by Elizabeth Stepp and Bill DeWitt. (Andy Nyland serves as understudy for the role of Elf Boy Len).
As ever with a CCT play, commendable production values are maintained, with sound design by Frank Thompson and costume design by Donna Harvey and Jerry Stevenson. Costumes combine recognizable holiday attire (that iconic red suit) with surprising delights (an ever-changing parade of zany hats). Complex action onstage relies on offstage support; clearly, this production has a superb team in place. Stage manager extraordinaire Jami Steele-Sprankle keeps the mayhem under control and provides effective backstage organization. Sound technician Anthony Harvey delivers praiseworthy precision in the execution of numerous sound cues which are essential to the show’s comedy, while David Quay supplies dependable light board operation.
As a parent, I was particularly gratified by the actors’ knack for nurturing my preschool son’s focus throughout the performance. He was able to engage in the audience-actor transaction of live theatre at a level of understanding that I hadn’t seen from this little boy before. The youngsters in attendance at this matinee performance were charmed by the actors, and became visibly invested in the play’s events.
Before the performance, cast and crew members involve children in coloring stocking ornaments and helping to decorate the onstage tree. A gentle approach to audience participation invites eager kids to take part in various opportunities, but does not overwhelm more reserved children. Stick around after the show to meet the cast, get autographs, and take photos. (My daughter observed, “I love when the actors autograph my program at Columbia Children’s Theatre!”)
Early in the performance, my youngest child chortled with laughter after a funny physical sequence and declared, “Ohhhh that is SO silly.” Yes, Ho Ho Ho, scripted by award-winning British children’s playwright Mike Kenny, is indeed “so silly,” in the most affirming and affectionate sense of the term. Columbia Children’s Theatre offers our community a comedic gift this holiday season in a fast-paced and cheery romp. Head on over to Ho Ho Ho, jumpstart your holiday spirit, and laugh your cares away with Father Christmas and friends at Columbia Children’s Theatre.
~ Melissa Swick Ellington