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"A Christmas Carol," November 21 - December 20, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

"Christmas in Lexington," December 5-14, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.

"Jack Frost," December 5-14, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.
"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," December 11-21, Sumter Little Theatre, 775-2150.

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Created by Local Artists, Columbia Children’s Theatre’s “Jack Frost” is a Cute Variation on Traditional Holiday Tales.

Review by August Krickel

Jack is like any other teenager. Although at heart a good kid, he sometimes neglects his chores, and prefers to sneak out of the house to play pranks and engage in mischief, often coaxing his otherwise well-behaved BFF Crystal to come along for the ride. Unfortunately, Jack's escapades can cause winter to come in the middle of autumn, since he's the son of the Snow Queen and the Frost King, and grandson to both Old Man Winter and Mother Nature, while Crystal's last name is Kringle, making her the daughter of Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Jack Frost is an innocuously cute little variation on traditional holiday fairy tales, running through this Sunday, Dec. 14 at Columbia Children's Theatre (CCT). Pre-schoolers might not grasp every nuance of the nevertheless simple and straightforward plot, but will still enjoy the festive colors and some amusing slapstick. First through third graders are probably the target audience, but at a recent matinee performance, dozens of middle schoolers were there too, probably imagining themselves quite chic and sophisticated, sitting with neither parents nor younger siblings. Yet every one of them seemed to be having a good time over the course of the play's one hour run time.  In fact, I'd say that tweens, moms, dads and grandparents were about equal in number to younger audience members, which is common at CCT. There are generally enough funny jokes and one-liners to keep the grownups entertained, while kids can appreciate the surface fairy tale plot. 

This particular story, however, is entirely new, with book and lyrics by Crystal Aldamuy, and music by Paul Lindley II. Both CCT regulars, Aldamuy doubles (triples?) as stage manager and choreographer, with Lindley as music director and actor, in the title role. Jerry Stevenson directs this delightful new addition to the holiday canon.  CCT is in the middle of their 10th season, and a number of their youth theatre participants are graduating into mainstage roles, including Kaitlyn Fuller as Crystal (alternating with Jerryanna Williams), and Anthony Harvey as both Old Man Winter and a particularly annoying elf. Fuller is bright and perky as the ideal daughter who never gets grounded or put on the naughty list, and is convincingly sympathetic to Jack's despondent moods. Harvey is hilarious as the Eddie Haskell of the elf world, way too eager to narc on Crystal for any tiny transgression she's caught in.  You really, really want to slap him upside the head. Both teen actors blend seamlessly with their older castmates, and in fact are probably the best at projection. Rachel Arling (full disclosure: my colleague and fellow theatre writer) plays both Mrs. Kringle and Mother Nature, and skillfully runs through a myriad of emotions as the play's most volatile characters. Julian Deleon plays Chris Kringle as a down-to-earth, flannel-shirt-and-jeans-wearing guy-next-door, but with a really expertly applied white beard. It's the Kringles' industrious lifestyle (caring for their reindeer herd, and keeping on schedule to create all the toys for Christmas) that inspire the icily royal Frost family to suggest that their children switch homes, to get a taste of how the other half lives. Lindley, as Jack, doesn't care, proclaiming in a rousing solo that like the winter, he's not meant to be tamed. Intentionally or by chance, there are thematic echoes of Stephen Schwartz's Pippin, who found everyday things to be so secondary, and who dreamed of his own corner of the sky. Sooner or later Pippin will be revived locally, and some future director wouldn't go wrong with Lindley in the lead. 

Aldamuy's script touches on some of the existing folklore, with Jack seen painting seasonal colors onto foliage, and with allusions to the Snow Queen's own teen years. Jack's mother is called Isis in the script, but is implied to be the Hans Christian Anderson character, i.e. the inspiration for Elsa in the film Frozen. There are amusing references that only the adults will get, like Jack's accidental creation of the Aurora Borealis, complete with some nifty lighting effects. Lindley, Harvey and Fuller engage in some really fast-paced physical comedy that wouldn't be out of place in a Laurel and Hardy film. And there are a number of heart-warming moments and lessons to be learned, as when Jack admits that even when he screws up, he still wants his parents to love him. And if you think about that for a moment and then reflect on your own teen years, you will understand this play's winning appeal.

What impressed me most, however, was Lindley's score. He's a recent college graduate, and has only been acting for three years; all that was necessary was a simple set of hummable tunes to accompany some winter-themed lyrics that would be pleasing to the ear of the average elementary school child in the audience. While the accompaniment is simply his pre-recorded performance on piano, the subtleties and complexities of his songs are quite impressive. So much so, that I had to enlist his help to be able to describe with correct terminology what I was hearing that I liked so much. In a number of songs, the singers take the main melody, while the piano makes runs up and down the scale using passing nonharmonic tones within the chord progression, that help thicken the accompaniment. At other times, two characters will duet, but with each singing independent melodies against each other in counterpoint. Most often the lyrics are extensions of the dialogue, i.e. not just songs inserted randomly. In other words, Lindley and Aldamuy are doing things that remind one of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Claude-Michel Schönberg, just simplified down for a small stage, one keyboard, and an audience of tykes, toddlers and tots who wouldn't have known the difference.  One particularly enjoyable number is a sort of variation on the core notes of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," done in a minor key. (I was quite proud when I guessed that term correctly!)  As he describes it, Lindley continued the tune in an imperfect fugue to arrive in minor, but then the song takes off in its own direction, and becomes an aggressive sort of tango.  Given that I can't read music, and that I don't have children, the fact that I bothered to figure out how to describe all of the preceding should be sufficient indication of what promising young talent is at play here, and how impressed I was.

There are a finite number of Christmas stories for children, and it’s always nice to see something new, especially when created by local artists. Jack Frost is the perfect solution for the child who’s just a little bored of the same old same old. But it just runs through this Sunday, with multiple morning and matinee performances, plus an adults-only, PG-13-rated “Date Night for Mom and Dad” (as well as the local theatre community who may want to go support their friends in the cast) on Friday Dec. 12th at 8 PM.  Call (803) 691-4548 or visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/jack-frost/ for ticket information.



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