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Holiday entertainment with a cabaret

BY EVAN CLARK | DECEMBER 16, 2010 7:10 AM

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It's rather hard being an adult around Christmas. All the money spent on gifts that wind up being returned the next day, throwing out the plethora of fruitcake that remains uneaten in the fridge, and watching It's A Wonderful Life for the hundredth time can take a toll on one's holiday season.

But Chris Okiishi understands what a little variety can do to get one in the holiday spirit, and he touts the City Circle production Celebrate Me Home: A Holiday Cabaret as the way to avoid blue Christmases.

"Christmas tends to be more for the children," said Okiishi, the musical director of the show. "That's why we came up with the idea of a holiday cabaret, a variety act in which people will see many different numbers that will make them feel happy about the holiday season, but with more stuff that will make them laugh about the holidays. People need a night to come and laugh about the holidays so they don't take it so seriously."

Celebrate Me Home: A Holiday Cabaret, a one-of-a-kind variety show, will kick off at 7:30 p.m. today at Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St., with performances continuing through Saturday. Admission is $12 for students and seniors, $15 for others.

The evening will feature singing, dancing, skits, and a wide variety of holiday music ranging from melancholy to warm and jolly. Cast member Kate Thompson will contribute her singing talents for the performance, which, she says, has prepared her for potential holiday caroling.

"Being a part of this has really gotten me in the mood for the holidays," she said. "I love Christmastime, so it's been fun to spend time with this music. We're doing some traditional Christmas songs, some jazz styles, but a lot of songs will be more comedy numbers."

A couple of the holiday comedy songs include "Surabaya Santa," which is about Ms. Claus waiting at home for Santa on Christmas Eve and getting kind of fed up. Another one, titled "If You Love Me, Please Don't Feed Me," deals with all of the calories gained over the holiday season. Thompson feels the humor in the music will help the audience take a break from the stress of preparing for Christmas.

"I think it's going to be fun and fairly casual for the audience," she said.

While the cast features community-theater veterans, a few members will make their onstage d├ębut. Among those is Michelle Altmaier, a City Circle board member who is one of four in new local dance team the Hawkettes. She is confident the Hawkettes' performance will be one to remember.

"I just think it's such a thrill to be back on stage and dancing," she said. "We all took breaks from dancing, and none of us really kept up with it, so it's good to get back in it. I don't get nervous, and with all the hard work we've been doing for two months, we're all ready to perform."

Patrick DuLaney, the codirector with Okiishi, says the acts and talent featured in the cabaret were shaped by collaboration.

"When we posted the audition announcements, we basically said if you have any special skills, bring them along," he said. "We had a flute player audition, and we thought, 'Hell, we should put that in.' The Hawkettes came to us, and we brought them aboard, as well. While a lot of the ideas were between [Okiishi] and me, people brought up many other ideas to us, so it really is a community-built show."

DuLaney thinks Celebrate Me Home will help recognize all the members of City Circle who have put in over two months of rehearsal for today's performance.

"Usually in a theater situation, you don't see the actors at all," he said. "For this, actors will be out in the lobby talking to people prior to the show because they're members of the community, just as everyone in the audience is. And when the show starts, all the actors will reflect the community that we all live in."

Many members of City Circle struggle to balance work and school along with their passion for theater. But Okiishi believes the struggle is what makes performances such as the cabaret all the better.

"That's the best part of community theater," he said. "I have a job that I work 70 hours a week, so to put this in my spare time is wonderful. We all have other lives, but to have three nights where we can be top performers is amazing. And tonight, the audience has a chance to see their mailman or doctor or any member of the community do something that we all love to do."


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